THE faces have changed and the famous black-and-white stripes have been altered, but the spirit which has become Newcastle United's since relegation remains strong as ever.
It has been a summer to forget for the Magpies, yet no matter how many times you kick them when they are down they still bounce back up. Especially when Sunderland are the opposition.
The biggest fear about the French revolution at Parc des Saint-James this summer was not so much the talent drain (worrying though that was), but the mental edge that looked like it could ebb away with it.
With the likes of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, José Enríque, Joey Barton and Steve Harper in their ranks, Newcastle always appeared greater than the sum of their parts. The same can be said in reverse of their local rivals on derby day.
Only the transfer-listed Barton remains in the first XI – for how long, we do not know – the rest passing a slew of French-speakers on the way out. Two have fleeting Premier League experience, the rest none.
Sunderland took the opposite transfer policy, only Ji Dong-Won of nine senior players added new to English football.
But led by Argentinian captain Fabricio Coloccini, the visitors summoned up the espirits de corps to triumph in an unseasonably early derby.
The pre-match body language would be replicated at the final whistle. Fifteen minutes before kick-off, coaches John Carver and Steve Stone ended the warm-up by taking Newcastle’s players over to the away end.
It got a few early boos out of the system of nearly 45,000 home fans.
At the final whistle they were back, not quite as orderly but wearing more gleeful expressions.
All but substitutes Mike Williamson and Dan Gosling hurled shirts into the crowd. Even masseur Micky Holland joined in at Barton’s insistence.
While Alan Pardew grinned from ear to ear on the bench, lapping up the hostile atmosphere moments before kick-off, Steve Bruce stood grim-faced in Sunderland’s technical area.
Every time the Wallsend-raised manager takes a step forward in the Black Cats’ fans affection, along comes a derby to push him back into his place.
His team’s early football put a smile on those craggy features, Stéphane Sessègnon reveling in the space he found when dropping off Asamoah Gyan.
It took just 13 seconds for the Benin international to have a shot and although it did not trouble Tim Krul, two later in the half would. Gyan nearly opened the scoring with the half’s last touch, a curling left-footer a fraction from Krul’s top-corner.
Dangerous every time Simon Mignolet lumped the ball forward – Gyan’s effort came from an Ahmed Elmohamady knock-down – Sunderland’s first half was one of wasted opportunities.
Elmohamady headed embarrassingly wide at a near-post corner, Sessègnon hit fresh air instead of one of the Egyptian’s crosses, Jack Colback failed to make decent contact on a delivery, Gyan was unable to contort his body enough to successfully redirect a Sebastian Larsson corner and Elmohamady dummied a cross after excellent work by the tigerish Lee Cattermole.
It could have been brilliant, if only there had been someone behind him.
They even carried the luck, the officials somehow failing to spot Larsson tipping Barton’s header around the post.
On Saturday Mignolet was not even the Black Cats’ best goalkeeper. Tipping over Yohan Cabaye’s first-half long-ranger the contact was not clean and his failed attempt to collect the Frenchman’s corner forced Larsson into the role of “fly keeper”.
He was just as at fault when Cattermole’s foul on Jonás Gutiérrez allowed Ryan Taylor to do what he does best.
Bruce’s former players have a habit of coming back to haunt him and he learned at Wigan that Taylor is lethal with a dead ball. In him, Cabaye and Barton Newcastle had three free-kick takers capable of exposing Mignolet.
It has been a difficult start to the season for Taylor, knowing Pardew is casting around for someone to replace him at left-back.
He spent his 27th birthday in a hotel preparing for a game just down the road from the home where his wife was, eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
Given his opportunity at the corner of the penalty area, Taylor hit his free-kick into the far top corner as Mignolet flapped beneath it.
With namesake Steven desperately trying to steal the goal, it could have been any old Taylor on the scoresheet.
That goal came in the 62nd minute, by which time Newcastle had a foothold in the game.
They never dominated as the Black Cats did early on yet the paucity of opposition meant they looked every bit as comfortable.
Sunderland were by some distance first out of the dressing room for the second half, but only in the physical sense. Pardew won the tactical battle hands down, smothering the threat of Sessègnon. Bruce’s response was simply to thrown on more strikers – finishing with four – while taking off Larsson, the man most capable of finding the heads of Ji and Connor Wickham.
Phil Bardsley was sent off at the end, one meaty tackle too many on a day of plenty.
There was a look of resignation as he left the field, and well there might be. The stats might claim Sunderland as the better team, but outplaying this Newcastle side is often only half the battle.