Tension spills over as Newcastle grab point against Martin O'Neill's Sunderland
Newcastle United 1 Sunderland 1: Bitterness, bad blood, accusations and acrimony, from the first minute to well beyond the last. There seems a concerted effort in these parts to make the north-east derby the most vitriolic in the country. Yesterday, it felt like it had taken the title.
Not even Mike Dean's final whistle could end the hatred, four minutes after Shola Ameobi had struck a dramatic, 91st-minute equaliser. Indeed, at that point, this game moved into a more sinister place. Lee Cattermole, the Sunderland captain who had been booked after 39 seconds for a scything challenge on Chieck Tioté, was shown a straight red for foul and abusive language towards the official in charge of a game that took everything to its extreme.
Martin O'Neill then accused Newcastle officials of visiting the referee at half-time, implying an influence that changed the subsequent officiating. John Carver, the Newcastle assistant manager, stood at the back of the press conference as the allegation was made and clearly did not agree. Nor did Alan Pardew, who was quickly made aware of the accusation. He went to see Dean and was assured that none of his staff had approached the official. The row rumbled on. The two managers had clashed twice during the game, when the benches squared up to each other, initially because of a challenge by James McClean and later when Pardew over-celebrated the winning of a penalty.
This parochial spat had proven so much more than that, serving up everything: a penalty that went in, a penalty that did not, two straight red cards, eight bookings, a 21-man mêlée, even the undignified shot of two managers almost nose-to-nose at the edge of their technical areas, at the edge of their emotional tethers. At half-time Andy Woodman, the Newcastle goalkeeping coach, had been sent to the stands for a row in the tunnel with Jim Henry, the Sunderland fitness coach. At times, it was difficult to keep up.
"It was everything people had told me about," O'Neill said. "Everything. Hostility, which I'm kind of used to, fervour, everything. In a perverse sort of way I was enjoying it, and then disappointed at the end. The noise was deafening. It really was something.
"The referee said Lee Cattermole had been sent off for foul and abusive language towards the referee. It must have been coming into the tunnel, I suppose. I don't think you can be doing that sort of thing. Possibly, in mitigation, we had heard that some of their staff had visited the referee's changing room at half-time.
"We're not party to what was said. Lee's mitigating circumstances was that he felt a lot of decisions had gone Newcastle's way in the second half. That may well be but I don't necessarily agree with that. I think Newcastle would consider themselves lucky to have 11 on the field if the referee continues with the way he started."
Pardew countered fiercely: "It is completely untrue that any member of my coaching staff went to the referee's dressing room. It is not allowed. Nobody went. I've heard that rumour. It is untrue. The major decisions the referee got absolutely right. The first penalty was a pull on the shirt.
"Unless you're a manager or a player here, you don't understand the pressure there is on this game. We are under pressure to get a result here. There is a lot of emotion. That is why they have both been so tight.
"I was just in a mindset that we needed to go and play. I was really relieved and thought it was justice that we got a goal. I didn't like the way the game started. It set the tone. The first tackle was premeditated [by Cattermole]. I was disappointed with that. I think he could have gone off at any other time. It set the tone. It was about a physical pattern to the game. Who was going to keep their head? I just hoped to get to half time with 11 players."
By half-time, Sunderland were deservedly in front and in the ascendancy. A McClean challenge on Danny Simpson at the Gallowgate End of the ground after 19 minutes was a fraction late. Every player bar Simon Mignolet, the Sunderland goalkeeper, was involved a in a free for all. The benches squared up. The whole game was played on the edge.
Five minutes later, Kieran Richardson's left-wing free-kick saw Mike Williamson grab the shirt of Michael Turner. Dean, who had already shown five yellow cards, pointed to the penalty spot, from where Nicklas Bendtner opened the scoring. The Danish forward went close with a volley and Craig Gardner saw a shot deflected wide.
Only at the half's death did Newcastle rally. Demba Ba will not want to replay any part of the match. He headed against the bar in the 43rd minute and was denied a penalty when pulled down by John O'Shea.
The second half was different, bossed by Newcastle. Still, they needed an excellent double-save from Tim Krul in the 57th minute to provide a springboard for their point. Forty seconds later, Tioté and Stéphane Sessègnon came together at the centre circle. Sessègnon lashed out with a forearm to hit Tioté in the throat. Dean produced red and the forward was snubbed by his manager as he went down the tunnel.
Newcastle took their corner count to 15 in a relentless second half. The substitutes changed the game. Hatem Ben Arfa was outstanding, stinging Mignolet's fingers with his shooting and dancing past those in red and white shirts. Still, it took a reckless challenge from Fraizer Campbell, flooring Ameobi, to give Newcastle a penalty. Strangely Ameobi, whose record against Sunderland is excellent, did not take it. Ba did. It was weak and Mignolet stopped to his left.
At the death, of the game, if not necessarily the hostilities, Ameobi did it himself, arriving at the far post to steer a Williamson flick-on beyond Mignolet. There was euphoria inside St James' Park. It felt like some form of justification, if that was possible, for both sides to emerge bloodied and battered with at least a point for giving so much. Not that anyone from either club saw it that way.
Newcastle: KRUL 7/10; SIMPSON 6; WILLIAMSON 6; COLOCCINI 7; SANTON 6; R TAYLOR 6; CABAYE 6; TIOTE 7; GUTIERREZ 6; CISSE 5; BA 5
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 8; RICHARDSON 6; TURNER 7; O'SHEA 8; BARDSLEY 6; McCLEAN 6; GARDNER 7; CATTERMOLE 4; LARSSON 6; SESSEGNON 4; BENDTNER 7
Subs: Newcastle Ben Arfa 8 (Santon, h-t), Shola Ameobi 7 (Cisse, 72), Lovenkrands (R Taylor, 88). Sunderland Campbell 4 (Bendtner, 71), Colback 4 (Larsson, 73), Bridge (Richardson, 85). Booked: Newcastle Simpson, Williamson, Cabaye, Ba, Tiote. Sunderland Cattermole, McClean, Gardner. Sent-off: Sunderland Sessegnon (58). Man of the match O'Shea. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Newcastle 55% Sunderland 45%.
Attempts on target: Newcastle 12 Sunderland 6.
Referee M Dean (Wirral). Attendance 52,388.