In the 1900-01 season, Sunderland had fallen two points short of champions Liverpool, eventually finishing in second.
It was a one-place improvement on 1899-00, but they still hadn't reached the heights of a decade earlier when they dominated the division and picked up three league titles in their first five seasons as a Football League club, under the stewardship of the legendary Tom Watson.
Alex Mackie had taken over the reins from Bob Campbell in 1899, and as the new season began in September 1901, the Sunderland manager was looking to go one better this time around, and bring the club its first trophy of the Roker Park era.
The opening fixtures had been relatively successful, with home wins over Sheffield United and Manchester City, a loss away to Wolves and a draw against Liverpool.
Newcastle were the relative new boys in Division One, having been promoted out of the second tier in 1898 and made steady progress up the rankings ever since.
However, in a strange quirk of history, the home team had yet to come out victorious in all six of the league Tyne-Wear and Wear-Tyne derbies, with Sunderland going to Tyneside on the final day of the previous season and leaving with a 2-0 win - a Good Friday fixture that was notable for the breaching of the gates at Newcastle’s ground by a ‘riotous crowd’.
As such, ‘the keenest’ of rivalries was developing between the clubs, and this was a game that brought out the crowds to St James’ Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in early autumn.
The hosts were unbeaten coming into this game, and had the slope at St James’ in their favour in the first half. Both sides played a hard and fast game, but Newcastle didn’t have their club record goalscorer, Jock Peddie, and Sunderland took the lead on 25 minutes via a high shot by Jimmy Gemmell.
This was the first of 43 goals that the Scottish inside forward would score for the club in his two spells on Wearside. He had joined Sunderland from Clyde the previous year and spent over six seasons at the club, followed by spells at Stoke and Leeds before he returned aged 30 for one more year in 1910-11.
Sunderland were playing some good stuff, but Newcastle pressed for an equaliser before half time. The Lads held out, however, with Ned Doig making a series of great saves to preserve our advantage.
In the second period, Newcastle couldn’t handle our aggression and their attack lacked the dynamism that was expected of them.
The home team were then reduced to ten men after defender Dave Gardiner had to leave the field for seven minutes through injury, and Sunderland had a goal from Bobby Hogg disallowed for a handball by Gemmell.
However, by all accounts, we saw the game out with ease and the two points took us up to second place in the table.
Sunderland never dropped below third for the rest of the season, and secured the fourth of our six league titles by three points from Everton. Newcastle had their best ever league season too, finishing in third, and they would go on to be the dominant team in the second half of the Edwardian decade.