The outcome was fair, and as we attempt to park this derby loss and move on, it’s absolutely vital that Sunderland’s players don’t allow the defeat to impact their morale, their faith in their own ability, and their league form.
The staging of the first Wear-Tyne derby for eight years ultimately ended in victory for Newcastle, and after all of the hype, it felt like something of a relief when all was said and done.
An unchanged starting eleven was quite a show of faith by Michael Beale, but after the victory against Preston during which his changes had worked well, there was no reason to disrupt that continuity.
For Nazariy Rusyn, it was a chance to establish himself as our go-to striker; for Jobe, an opportunity to test himself against a higher standard of opposition and for Dan Neil and Anthony Patterson? The kind of game they would’ve dreamed of playing in as youngsters at the Sunderland academy.
Local rivals, a big FA Cup tie, a match that every man and boy would give anything to be part of.
Eddie Howe, on the other hand, named a team that despite being assailed by injuries, was by no means ‘weak’ and was spearheaded by the dangerous Alexander Isak. A tough challenge awaited, to say the least.
Amid a frenzied atmosphere inside a packed Stadium of Light, the game kicked off with the Lads attacking the away-occupied north stand and Newcastle straight into the groove.
An early run from Anthony Gordon eventually led to a corner which was half-cleared before Patterson had to be on his toes to palm a cross from Trippier away from danger. He then had to be equally alert to keep out a header from Sean Longstaff seconds later.
At the other end, Pierre Ekwah’s speculative long range shot was blocked, Rusyn was seeking an opening, and every Sunderland challenge was met with a roar. Alex Pritchard, meanwhile, was his usual busy self: always looking to get on the ball, find space, and the incisive pass.
As things settled down, Dan Ballard blocked another Trippier cross and a foul by Pritchard gave the visitors a free kick that was lined up by the former Tottenham defender. Fortunately, the wall stood strong and Patterson gathered it up.
As the half wore on, a little bit of needle was injected into the game, as Jack Clarke and Sven Botman crossed swords and Gordon was left on the deck by the combative Hume. A half-hearted handball appeal against Ballard was also waved away by Craig Pawson as Newcastle pushed for the opener.
Minutes later, Longstaff stabbed a half-chance over the bar from a Trippier pass as we were opened up down the right. One or two warning signs, but nothing too dramatic, even if we weren’t finding too much joy in an attacking sense, and too much respect was being shown to the visitors.
Midway through the first half, we had a major fright when Isak broke free after a turnover in possession, but Ballard was able to make the covering challenge. This was followed by another Newcastle break, from which Longstaff was only able to sky the ball over the bar.
Unfortunately, Ballard blotted his copybook shortly afterwards, as he could only steer a cross from Joelinton beyond the helpless Patterson, with Isak lurking for a tap in had he missed it.
It was a cruel blow for a player who’d been superb up to that point, but we had to regroup and we were able to see out the remainder of the first half with no further problems, bar a volley from Almirón that went narrowly wide of the post.
No changes were made at the break, and the question was whether we could throw a few stiff jabs instead of being as passive as we’d been in the first half. Could Beale adjust things to suit? Was a shift in approach imminent?
However, things went from bad to worse immediately, as Ekwah was caught in possession, and Almirón had the easiest of tasks to roll the ball to Isak for a simple finish. 2-0, game almost over, and a goal that the visitors didn’t even have to work hard for.
Bizarrely, that seemed to spark us firmly into life, as the former West Ham defender’s powerful shot from the left wing was almost deflected past Dúbravka and a fizzing long-range strike from Pritchard grazed the top of the crossbar. At the other end, O’Nien got himself in the way of a shot from Almirón as Newcastle kept pushing.
With twenty minutes left, we finally seemed to throw off the shackles and go for it.
Pritchard’s shot was saved by a diving Dúbravka as we actually started to take the game to Newcastle, but no changes were made by Beale until Abdoullah Ba entered the fray for Rusyn with five minutes left to play.
The final word, sadly, went to Newcastle, as Ballard’s crude challenge on Gordon led to a penalty which was duly dispatched by Isak for a 3-0 victory that, on balance, was deserved.
A bruising day, a bad defeat, but our season was never going to be defined by the outcome of this game.
The Mags can get back to their own league campaign, and we can do the same, starting against Ipswich next Saturday. Let’s hope we can recover from this and not allow our confidence to be dented too much.
Saturday 6 January 2024
Emirates FA Cup
Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Referee: Craig Pawson
Sunderland: Patterson, Hume, Ballard; O’Nien, Alese, Neil; Ekwah, Pritchard, Jobe; Clarke, Rusyn (Ba 84’)
Subs Not Used: Bishop, Pembélé, Triantis; Seelt, Rigg, Aouchiche; Semedo, Burstow
Newcastle United: Dúbravka, Trippier, Schär (Lascelles 91’); Botman, Burn (Livramento 91’), Guimarães; Longstaff, Joelinton (Miley 47’), Almirón (Dummett 91’); Gordon (Ritchie 91’), Isak
Subs Not Used: Karius, Krafth, Hall; Parkinson