This game was typically tempestuous and tense for a derby fixture. Sunderland and Newcastle United were experiencing a similar season, with both teams struggling somewhat in the league.
Newcastle were led by JFK (Kinnear, not Kennedy), whilst Roy Keane had departed the Sunderland position only two months previously as his relationship with new owner Ellis Short hit a breaking point.
Ricky Sbragia originally took over as caretaker but eventually took on the job full-time, having exceeded all expectations by going on a very positive run of form.
With Sunderland winning the reverse fixture after Kieran Richardson almost burst the net with the thunderbolt of a free kick, the atmosphere was raucous and expectant for a Newcastle response at St James’ Park.
Despite the expectancy, it was Sunderland who started the better.
Early on, Kieran Richardson lofted in a free kick which somehow evaded players on both and sides only for it to hit the post. Furthermore, from the rebound, Kenwyne Jones had his shot cleared off the line by Newcastle’s new signing Kevin Nolan.
The game was frantic and end to end. After Sunderland almost took the lead, Newcastle almost drew first blood through Andy Carroll. Carroll had struck the bar after his header from Jose Enrique’s cross looping onto the top of the woodwork.
Moments later, in what summarised the game perfectly, Sunderland attacked down the other end and gave us the lead.
Dean Whitehead was the creator with a looped pass which found Cisse in space, played onside by Fabricio Coloccini, and the French striker finished at the second attempt after Harper had parried his initial effort.
It was the least Sunderland deserved, who had thrived under the intense atmosphere.
After the break, Newcastle came into the game far more and with the backing of the crowd, they drove forward in an attempt to get the equaliser.
Referee Howard Webb faced a crucial decision when Damien Duff entered the Sunderland box, only to go down under Anton Ferdinand’s tackle. Despite the fervent crowd’s protests, replays confirmed minimal contact, and Webb’s decision was accurate.
In a subsequent key moment, Webb made an error. Steven Taylor, under pressure from Steed Malbranque, theatrically threw himself to the ground. Unfortunately, Webb fell for Taylor’s antics, awarding a penalty. Shola Ameobi expertly converted the spot kick.
Following the equaliser, Sunderland seized control. Sebastien Bassong’s last-gasp challenge thwarted Jones, and Richardson sent a powerful free-kick over the bar moments later.
In the closing minutes, former Newcastle striker Michael Chopra entered the fray for Sunderland. In a perplexing move, Chopra opted to pass the ball across the box to Kenwyne Jones, in a less favorable position than himself, missing a potential goal opportunity.
Curiously, the next day saw Chopra’s transfer to Cardiff. Mere coincidence? Doubtful.
Post-match, manager Ricky Sbragia deemed the result fair, despite the contentious penalty decision.
It was a fast and furious match between two very open teams. We had the better of the first half but we really needed the second goal to kill the game.
Credit to Newcastle, though, they dominated the second half. However, I don’t think their’s was a penalty - Taylor has played the five card trick and the officials have bought it.
Still, even though we could have snatched the win at the end, I think a draw was probably the fair result.
Newcastle: Harper, Taylor, Bassong, Coloccini (Edgar 90), Jose Enrique, Gutierrez, Butt, Nolan, Duff, Carroll (Lovenkrands 82), Ameobi.
Subs Not Used: Krul, Xisco, Geremi, LuaLua, Donaldson.
Booked: Butt, Duff.
Goals: Ameobi 69 pen.
Sunderland: Fulop, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Edwards (Reid 71), Whitehead, Richardson, Malbranque (Leadbitter 90), Cisse (Chopra 55), Jones.
Subs Not Used: Colgan, Murphy, Yorke, Healy.
Booked: Bardsley, Richardson, McCartney, Ferdinand.
Goals: Cisse 32. Att: 52,084