A BETTER result for Sunderland, a much better performance from Newcastle United. But if honours were even, it will be the Black Cats who will have more reason to celebrate their share of the spoils.
Given their injury problems and recent misfortune, this was a victory of sorts for Newcastle. But a moral one is not the kind they wanted and the Magpies have ultimately still failed to win another of their "must win" games. When the dust finally settles on an enthrallingly epic Tyne-Wear derby, the result has to be put into some kind of context and Joe Kinnear will know this is two points dropped against a relegation rival.
United have now drawn five of their 12 home games in the Premier League. Had they won just two of those, they would be four points clear of the relegation places and as high as 12th in the table. Thin lines, but potentially pivotal ones.
Sunderland were superb in the opening exchanges and may have snatched a win at the end, but they were also alarmingly abject at times in the second half. Their fans may have revelled in taunting the home crowd with "You’re going down with the Boro", but they must also realise they too are far from safe.
For all of the satisfaction which comes with an away draw against your bitter rivals, Sunderland’s supporters will also know they had their foot on Newcastle’s throat when Djibril Cisse gave them a first half lead, and failed to squeeze hard enough.
There are many fans who can never enjoy the derby because of the stomach- churning tension of the occasion, but this was a wonderful spectacle for the neutral and everything a local derby should be.
Hot-blooded, passionate, bold and exciting, no quarter was given and none was asked for. At times in their recent histories, the Tyne-Wear derby has been a mis-match with Newcastle too often allowed to cruise to victory, but this was a fascinating tussle between two evenly- matched sides.
Andy Carroll set the tone with a late tackle on Phil Bardsley, Anton Ferdinand responded with a shoulder charge on Steve Harper, Nicky Butt answered by kicking Bardsley up in the air, Bardsley retaliated with a nasty lunge on Jonas Gutierrez and received the first yellow card – his fifth of the season – of the afternoon. Thankfully, the opening of referee Howard Webb’s little black book did little to reduce the intensity of battle as Sunderland threatened to overrun Newcastle’s back line.
However, it took them until the 20th minute to threaten Steve Harper’s goal, Kieran Richardson’s free kick curling on to the post with Kenwyne Jones’ follow-up cleared off the line by debutant Kevin Nolan. The former Bolton midfielder – unsurprising considering he has only just returned from injury – looked a little off the pace in the first half, but improved in the second and also blocked another goalbound effort from Richardson before the break. At the other end, United’s only real chance came from a Carroll header which looped on to the crossbar and when Sunderland took the lead just past the half-hour mark, it was fully deserved, Cisse springing the offside trap and finishing at the second attempt after Harper had blocked his initial effort.
Lacklustre in the first 45 minutes, Newcastle responded well to Kinnear’s half- time rollicking and, as Sunderland tried to hang on to their lead by defending in numbers, the black and whites established superiority as they pushed for an equaliser with Jonas Gutierrez, in particular, outstanding.
A Nolan shot on the turn was gathered by Marton Fulop before George McCartney was needed to head the ball clear off the line after Danny Collins had guided an attempted clearance towards his own net.
Damien Duff was booked for diving as he tried to make the most of Anton Ferdinand’s wishy-washy tackle, but Newcastle eventually got their penalty when Steven Taylor made the most of another untidy challenge from Steed Malbranque.
Shola Ameobi converted from the spot and still Newcastle poured forward, Carroll’s strike ruled out because of a handball by Ameobi in the build-up while Fulop made two alert saves to deny Taylor and Ameobi. At that stage, as Damien Duff missed an excellent chance from 12 yards, there appeared to be only one team capable of winning the game, but Sunderland came back into it in the closing stages as former Newcastle striker Michael Chopra inexplicably tried to cross to Jones when one-on-one with Harper.
The game flew from one end of the pitch to the other, Peter Lovenkrands’ turn and shot falling on to the roof of the net in stoppage time.
Newcastle still felt they could win it, but instead it was Sunderland who came closest to grabbing the victory with the final kick of the game as Andy Reid sent a shot swirling just wide of the far post.
It drew a collective sigh of relief from the Magpies at the end of a breathtaking encounter.
Neither side, though, can breathe easily just yet.