12 vs. 10: Sunderland's struggle with Newcastle

Posted by Marc Duffy

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesMagpies boss Alan Pardew wasnt the only one upset by the 1-1 draw; just ask the legions of fans forced to endure travel difficulties leaving the Stadium of Light..

It was with great interest that I went along to the Benfica Copyright Infringement Stadium (also known as The Stadium of Light) today. I haven't missed too many derbies in the past couple of decades and since Sunderland moved into that stadium, the day often pans out in the same way.

There was a slight difference today, though; the away fans were moved into a different area of the stadium in an attempt at making the atmosphere better for the home team (fail). This led to logistical problems and safety concerns for the police as highlighted in Friday's Independent and as such, I had an issue in terms of getting to the ground.

An unavoidable Christening this morning meant that I would miss the official club transport and the Metro trains. Instead I got a lift to within a mile of the ground and walked in. I've done this before and it's a weird situation -- even though I wasn't wearing any colours, I was suffering from a fair amount of paranoia and this time I was concerned about where I had to go. I didn't have a clue and thought that might be a bit of a giveaway as the home fans were being stopped by a police cordon and were hanging about. Fortunately for me, one of the officers in the cordon was a friend so he took me through and into the section heavily policed and blocked off for away fans only.

Once I got into the ground (45 minutes before kick off) I went looking for my mates. A wander up to the top of the stand where I was sitting told me that the fans could fill two of three levels. Level one served booze while level three served food; obviously, level three was a ghost town and level one was absolutely rammed with boozing Geordies. A brilliant atmosphere to be in and it's no surprise that it's where I found the lads.

I went up to my seat just before kick off and found it just a few away from the cordon of stewards and police separating us from the home fans. Brilliant! Newcastle's support sang their many songs whilst Sunderland sang theirs - which happen to be all about Newcastle. Oh, and they had a little ditty about wishing Steven Taylor was dead.

When Yohan Cabaye gave Newcastle the lead after only a few minutes, the celebration was (as ever) mental. When it subsided about five minutes later I was bleeding from the shins and had a big bald bloke lying on the ground in front of me. The home fans were completely silent. Another highlight from the Newcastle crowd was the extended version of "any, any, any O'Brien" in the second half -- one of the best I've ever been part of.

Now I may be a pessimist, but we should have won this game with ease. That was obvious. Unfortunately early in the first half Cheik Tiote was given a straight red card, leaving us to face more than two-thirds of a derby away from home with one man less. (I'm not going to get into the performance of Martin Atkinson here -- that will be done to death everywhere else. All I will say is that this game was too big for him and he didn't want to upset the locals).

The sending off brought the home fans to life for about five minutes. It must have been then that they realised even if they're playing ten men they're doing so under the aimless, negative leadership of Martin O'Neill. Of course they enjoyed more pressure, but Tim Krul still had nothing to do. Fabricio Coloccini patrolled the back, putting in a top class Rolls-Royce performance. He was phenomenal.

Sunderland snuck an equaliser late on, was harsh on the visitors whose defensive display was excellent. Fortiter Defendit Triumphans: the motto of the City of Newcastle.

The match finished at about half past three but I didn't walk through the front door at home until six o'clock as I opted to catch the Metro back from Sunderland to Newcastle. Hundreds of police marched the supporters to the station and regular stopping points with police horses staggered the flow of fans.

Every year the same things happen and I wouldn't be surprised if one year somebody gets seriously hurt. Nexus and the police obviously don't discuss the frequency of trains. Because of this they don't come very often, leaving well over 1,000 people waiting and uncertain as to what is going on. When the police let through the crowd one phase at a time they are sent through a bottleneck towards the stairs. This is a particularly unpleasant experience, a lot of crushing made more difficult by the police flanking either side of the stairs and blocking access to the platform at the top. Any supporters with any sort of health issues who might be considering travelling to this fixture via Metro next season: don't bother.

I got home and immediately stuck on the TV and iPad. Golf balls thrown at Cabaye as he took a corner, an investigation into racism aimed at Demba Ba (on the same week that one of the Mackems' own, Danny Rose, was subjected to a terrible ordeal in Serbia) and more references to their Steven Taylor song -- what a lovely place.

On the one hand I'm disappointed with a draw. The first 20 minutes demonstrated our superiority and we also held out for so long down a man. But on the other hand if you'd offered me this result the second after Tiote was sent off, I'd have accepted.

One thing is for sure: Newcastle will finish above Sunderland this season.

Give me a shout on Twitter @MarcSDuffy

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