So, we get a great crowd, a proper sense of occasion, bags of anticipation, a bright enough start – and then a total flop.
For all our efforts in the first half, which might on another day have produced a goal or two (but also a sending off for us and a goal for Newcastle United), we barely turned up for the second.
It was a grimly depressing moment when Simon Mignolet took up the most woeful positioning for a Ryan Taylor free kick and allowed the ball to sail over him into the net. But it was, by then, no great surprise. We had no punch; Newcastle had steadily gained a grip of the game.
There will be a lot of people calling for Steve Bruce’s head after another desperately disappointing showing against our fiercest rivals. A win at Swansea next week now seems an absolute must, not necessarily for Bruce’s salvation – dismissal this early in the season would be absurd – but for the morale of the large, loyal but continually let-down support.
Nor, by the way, was it any surprise when Phil Bardsley’s optimistic attempt to keep the ball when pressing forward led to a second yellow. He misses Swansea. Bruce has a lot of thinking to do between now and then (could we be missing a striker by any chance, Steve?), and we have the potential banana skin of Brighton away in the Carling Cup before that.
This was the first half report:
Big controversy but no goals in the first half.
The first 45 were busy, niggly and mostly dominated by Sunderland. But arguably neither Seb Larsson nor Yohan Cabaye ought to have finished the half, and Newcastle should have gone ahead, massively against the run of play, with a penalty.
Both Howard Webb and his assistant missed Larsson’s hand ball that deflected a goal-bound header round the post. So a huge let-off, just as at Anfield when, on another interpretation, Kieran Richardson’s challenge on Suarez would have led not just to the just the penalty, which Suarez ballooned into the Liverpool skies, but a red card.
But as happened then, there was another handball involved.
At Anfield, Suarez had beaten down Richardson’s poor halfway line clearance with hand, the ball bouncing splendidly in his path. That was missed or ignored by Phil Dowd. Today’s combination of headers by Ameobi and Barton also involved a handball, so should the whistle have gone even before Larsson’s intervention?
A difficult one, unless you’re a Mag screaming for blood or a Mackem speculating, while trying to keep a straight face, that maybe poor Seb’s hand flopped unintentionally in the way of a ball on its way out anyway and that he did all he could while falling backwards to avoid contact.
Cabaye? The former Lille player’s studs-up lunge at Phil Bardsley could very, very easily have been seen as a sending-off offence. Webb gave benefit of doubt and waved a yellow.
Otherwise, mainly long-range efforts, three good ones from us (Sessegnon twice and Gyan) and Cabaye for them. We played the better football, they worried us into losing possession far too easily in dangerous positions, with Wes Brown nowhere near as commanding as he had been at Liverpool.
Half chances at both ends, our early dominance giving way to a more even flow. Nil-nil at half time, and a difference of opinion at Salut! Sunderland: Pete Sixsmith’s text read “slaughtering them 0-0”. I thought, controversy notwithstanding, it was just about fair despite our better start.
At the final whistle, there was no disagreement between us. See Pete’s verdict here. It’s mine, too.
Mignolet; Bardsley, Richardson, Brown, Ferdinand: Larsson, Elmohamdy, Cattermole (c), Colback; Sessegnon, Gyan.
Subs: Gardner, Wickham, Vaughan, Dong-won, Bramble, Laing, Westwood
Krul, Simpson, R Taylor, Coloccini (c), S Taylor Gutierrez, Obertan, Tiote, Barton, Cabaye, Sh Ameobi
Subs: Williamson, Lovenkrands, Gosling, Ba, Best, Marveaux, Harper