Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce denied by Mitrovic to give Newcastle's Rafa Benitez hope
Newcastle 1 - Sunderland 1
It was not the famous No 9 shirt that Aleksandar Mitrovic waved around his head as delirium swept St James'. Newcastle United is too complicated a football club for that, but for a moment the failings and seemingly endless struggle were forgotten as relief created the wall of sound that Rafa Benitez had asked for on his home bow as manager.
As Mitrovic swirled his No 45 shirt, a supporter ran from the Gallowgate End and slipped through his legs. The forward jumped and then embraced the fan. He was mobbed by team-mates. In the stands the familiar feeling of dread, that another defeat to Sunderland was on its way, was extinguished. In its place was uninhibited celebration.
Sunderland had won the previous six Tyne-Wear derbies, an unprecedented run, and when Mitrovic jumped at the far post to head Georginio Wijnaldum's right-wing cross past Vito Mannone, their support fell silent.
For perhaps two minutes, St James' Park became the home of Newcastle United again, and the stadium came alive with noise and energy.
It was from that, rather than his team's insipid first-half showing, that Benitez drew his own strands of belief afterwards, when the regional war had run its course. Without the goal, as Benitez seemed to agree, the battle to stay in the Premier League was probably all over. Instead, such is the tenuous grasp on Premier League life, there was a beep on the heart monitor. It showed Benitez that it is not a flatline. At least not yet.
"It was really important for everyone here," said Benitez. "Hopefully we can keep this momentum for the next games."
The 154th North-east derby did not need inflaming, as the fractious relationship between Benitez and his old foe Sam Allardyce threatened. There was enough without that, and Allardyce's anger afterwards was not, for once, provoked by the Spaniard, but by his own players' second-half retreat.
"We're our own worst enemy," he said. "We will concede goals and that's a nasty habit. It was a crime to sit back in a game like that and let them come at us."
Rob Elliot, who was probably Newcastle's best player, made two outstanding saves in the opening 45 minutes. A goal would come, and it was Jermain Defoe, who struck, firing in an angled left-foot shot after Elliot had produced a superb save from Fabio Borini's 20-yard drive and Chancel Mbemba failed to clear.
When the final whistle went, the celebrating had ceased. Both clubs could still be relegated, but that there was even an element of uncertainty was down to the goal for which Mitrovic had removed his shirt.
NEWCASTLE: Elliot, Janmaat (Anita 71), Mbemba, Lascelles, Colback (De Jong 62), Shelvey, Wijnaldum,T ownsend (Cisse 76), Perez, Sissoko, Mitrovic.
Subs Not Used: Saivet, Darlow, Taylor, Riviere.
Goals: Mitrovic 83.
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Yedlin, Kone, Kaboul (O'Shea 73), Van Aanholt, Kirchhoff (Cattermole 84), Borini, M'Vila, Rodwell, Khazri (N'Doye 75), Defoe.
Subs Not Used: Jones, Pickford, Lens, Toivonen.
Goals: Defoe 44.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).