x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sunderland 1 Newcastle United 1

Demba Ba proved to be the unlikely provider as Newcastle's top scorer sent in an own goal that led to a draw and a point for Sunderland, writes Richard Jolly.

Sunderland's Swedish midfielder, Sebastian Larsson, left, vies with Newcastle United's Senegalese striker, Demba Ba during their English FA Premier League football match at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland's Swedish midfielder, Sebastian Larsson, left, vies with Newcastle United's Senegalese striker, Demba Ba during their English FA Premier League football match at the Stadium of Light.

A theme of Sunderland's season has been the wait for anyone other than Steven Fletcher to score a league goal. And finally, when they wanted one most, someone else obliged: Newcastle's top scorer.

It added an illogical element to the incessant noise and the inevitable controversy of the North-East derby when Demba Ba's unfortunate own goal earned Sunderland a share of the spoils.

The Newcastle striker applied the final touch after John O'Shea met Sebastian Larsson's free kick. It was doubly cruel: to Ba himself, who had excelled as a lone striker, and to his team, who were the superior side for the vast majority of the game.

Sunderland's salvation lay in their late, and belated, surge as well as the set-piece expertise of Larsson. Yet while honours were even and both sides languish in the lower half of the table, they have more to regret.

Newcastle's frustration at losing the lead they held for 82 minutes swiftly gave way to pride about their performance. "It was a magnificent effort," said their manager Alan Pardew.

"If we had seen it out, it would have been one of the greatest victories ever here. As it was, it's a great point."

A man short for 70 minutes, including added time, his team's efficiency and organisation was testament to the excellence of their captain Fabricio Coloccini, in particular. His injury-enforced withdrawal, as much as Martin O'Neill's substitutions, was the catalyst for a comeback.

And with a full complement of players, Newcastle exerted control. They were quick to strike. Hatem Ben Arfa freed Ba and, though Simon Mignolet turned the Senegalese's shot away, it fell to Yohan Cabaye, who drilled his shot through a crowded penalty area with masterly accuracy.

Yet while one central midfielder pulled the trigger, another pressed the self-destruct button.

This is a fixture with a history of red cards and with the most likely candidate, the Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole, already suspended, Newcastle Cheick Tiote made an early exit instead.

Tiote's disciplinary record was poor enough even before, after holding off Jack Colback, he launched into a studs-up lunge at Fletcher.

Normally a magnet for yellow cards, he was shown a straight red, rendered all the more senseless because the referee Martin Atkinson had already awarded Newcastle a free kick for Colback's challenge.

"Looking back, I can't have any complaints," Pardew said. "It's a shame. Cheick is very important to us but what a response from the rest of the group."

But it altered Newcastle's approach. Shola Ameobi, the derby talisman, was sacrificed as James Perch was introduced to bolster the midfield. Ba was left alone and, at times, isolated in attack but he approaches his duties manfully.

Nevertheless, he posed a threat while Sunderland, struggling to supply Fletcher, were subdued.

Their creative contingent were particular disappointments. James McClean rallied in the final few minutes but his season has been as underwhelming as the last was unexpectedly encouraging.

Stephane Sessegnon's longest drought as a Black Cat was extended and he remains in a malaise. Adam Johnson flickered without delivering.

From deeper positions, Larsson and Craig Gardner displayed more purpose. From the bench, Louis Saha made an impact.

Yet their efforts in the final few minutes when, as Pardew said, Newcastle were tiring, only illustrated how poor they had been with a numerical advantage before then.

"I thought we became anxious when they were down to 10 men," O'Neill said. "They were very strong until the sending off. Slog or not, the noise that erupted from the stadium when we equalised is something that I will not forget."

Yet if the memory is of the atmosphere as a damaging defeat was averted, O'Neill's analytical brain should be applied to the reasons for unwanted runs.

Sunderland have only beaten Newcastle once in a dozen years and have won just one of their past 15 Premier League games.

They are draw specialists but excelled at little else on Sunday.

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