Sunderland comeback marred by violence
Sunderland 1 Newcastle United 1: Sunderland may be making moves to employ the services of a well-known former diplomat in the shape of David Miliband, but it was Alan Pardew who was the one offering the olive branch in the wake of a stormy finale to this latest Tyne-Wear turf war.
Unbridled celebration among the home supporters at Asamoah Gyan's equaliser four minutes into stoppage time spilled over into something rather more sinister as Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper was confronted and shoved over by a lone fan, before violence erupted on the final whistle. Seats were used as missiles between opposing tribes in scenes that mirrored the culmination of the sides' last meeting here in 2008.
The Football Association will await the report of referee Howard Webb, who stepped in to identify Harper's assailant to stewards, before deciding what, if any, action to take. To his credit, Pardew refused to fan the flames in an act of diplomacy of which Miliband, the former foreign secretary, who is set to join the Sunderland board in a non-executive role, would have been proud.
"When you get a last-minute goal in a derby there'll be an over-reaction from everybody," the Newcastle manager said. "What happened with that fan, that shouldn't have happened and I think he pushed Steve in the back. I don't think there was anything malicious in it, but people have to control themselves. On first sight it's an ugly incident but I don't think it was that bad, there was no punch thrown."
His opposite number, Steve Bruce, was rather less conciliatory, and the Sunderland manager said: "I just saw Harper on the floor and I didn't see what happened. I'd like to say well done to the Sunderland fans who gave the kid up, and that's what he is, a kid. He's in police custody as we speak.
"We love the football and the passion but we don't need to see scenes like that. I hope they ban him for a long time. I can't understand what goes through his mind, why the hell he's got to come onto the pitch and confront Harper baffles me. It's remarkable how such a young lad gets that in his mind. Why doesn't he just celebrate with 40,000 other fans? It's a sad indictment of society."
Pardew was rather more incensed by the amount of stoppage time played than any potential danger to his goalkeeper, which allowed Gyan to level when the ball rebounded in off his knee from six yards after Harper had pushed out a shot from Kieran Richardson in the lurking Ghanaian's direction.
"The fourth official told me there was going be a lot of added time so his information was good," Pardew conceded. "But there aren't many games when you get five minutes injury time so I thought it was harsh.
"When you get five minutes, it brings the stadium alive again, the referee almost went to them 'here you are, here's a bit more excitement for you' because we'd killed the crowd. The injury time cost us and that was a bit harsh as it's cost us two points. We're in the dressing room feeling that it's like a defeat and yet it's a valuable point. We deserved to win."
Kevin Nolan's close-range backheel from Shola Ameobi's knock-down seven minutes into the second half – the forward last night claimed the goal after insisting his captain hadn't got a touch to his towering header from Joey Barton's corner – looked to be enough to secure a league double in the wake of Sunderland's 5-1 humiliation on Tyneside in October. It was the midfielder's 10th goal of the season, the first time he has reached double figures in a Premier League campaign.
Sunderland weren't without their chances as Harper blocked with his legs to deny Darren Bent before making a smart save down to his right to keep out Steed Malbranque at a well-worked short corner.
But it was the visitors, who have lost just once on Wearside in 31 years, who fashioned the clearer openings and paid dearly for not taking them. Ameobi should have put them ahead inside three minutes as he exploited a gaping hole in the Sunderland defence to poke the ball wide from the edge of the area when clean through.
Richardson hacked Fabricio Coloccini's close-range effort off the line after Alan Smith rose highest to knock back Barton's corner as the visitors pressed. It was Smith's last contribution as the midfielder limped off before the break with ankle trouble.
Leon Best took advantage of more slack marking from Titus Bramble to run onto Barton's late pass before firing in a shot on the turn which hit the side-netting as the killer second goal failed to materialise.
It allowed Gyan, who had not enjoyed the most fruitful of afternoons in the previous 93 minutes, to atone with his eighth goal of the season with a far-from-convincing finish. "It was a bit lucky, but they all count," he admitted. His manager concurred. "It summed up his afternoon," Bruce admitted. "It hit his knee and bounced five yards in front of him."
Booked: Sunderland Richardson. Newcastle Barton.
Man of the match Barton.