Pete Sixsmith descends from the insult to humanity that passes for the Sports Direct Arena/SJP away end, accepts safe passage through the gauntlet of hate and rues the late, late Ameobi show …
My head is still banging as I sit in front of the trusty Toshiba, trying to assess the afternoon’s happenings. Was it a point won or two thrown away? Did we deserve to win or was a draw a fair result? How long will our unbeaten record at The Sports Direct Arena last – or will it be The Richard Branson Playpen Stadium when next we visit?
It was an old-fashioned, riproaring, high octane game which simmered throughout and almost boiled over at various stages. I felt some sympathy for Mike Dean, a man I always think should be looking at his stamp collection rather than trying (and failing) to control the likes of Lee Cattermole and Cheick Tiote. It is not an easy game to referee and might have been better handled by Hulk Hogan or Judge Jeffries – or even Judge Judy …
Like Baldrick’s war poem, it started off badly and got worse. Cattermole could have been sent off in the first minute as he decided to clatter into Tiote. It was not a pretty sight and I breathed a sigh of relief when the yellow appeared. It was, we hoped, a Richie Pitt moment, that one marker laid down that would stifle the opposition.
It deteriorated rapidly. Cabaye, Simpson, Ba and McClean all ended up in the book before Williamson joined them for trying to take Michael Turner’s shirt as a souvenir and giving us a penalty.
The text report on the BBC web site makes for interesting reading. After he was fouled by Cattermole – and, like M Salut, I don’t defend the tackle – Tiote committed four fouls that the text man noted and made a single positive contribution. None of those tackles was deemed a bookable offence. Why not?
For the 44 minutes after Cattermole’s booking, we ran the game and Newcastle looked as much like a top six side as I look like George Clooney. The goal that we scored was well deserved and Bendtner showed his quality by stroking it home and by having an all round good game – far, far better than either Ba or Cisse, who were both taken out of the game (legitimately this time) by O’Shea and Turner.
At half time, there was a feeling of content mixed with the worry that they could only improve in the second half. They did, as Ben Arfa at last gave them some control and quality that only one team had shown in the opening 45 minutes.
The turning point came in the 57th minute, when we could have gone two up, but ended up one down.
A great break saw Krul save well from Seb Larsson and then brilliantly from McClean. A goal then would have wrapped it up, the crowd, which was quiet, would have grumbled and we could have stretched them all over the park.
Unfortunately, Sessegnon, our main outlet and the most (only) creative player on the field had a spat with Tiote that had rumbled on all game. Instead of ignoring him, he stuck out his elbow, Tiote rolled around as if he had swallowed poison, and Mike Dean had no option but to send him off. No arguments, no problems with it, but Tiote made a complete idiot of himself with his ridiculous reaction.
So, backs to the wall time it was and we seemed to be capable of holding an increasingly desperate Newcastle side whose only plan was to chuck it in the box and hope that Ba or Cisse got a fortunate bounce.
And then … they took off the wholly ineffectual Cisse and sent on Shola Ameobi. He came across really well in his post match interview. He sounds a nice guy, I bet he looks after his mum and dad and helps old ladies across the road, but I hate him for always bloody well scoring against us.
As he came on, Fraizer Campbell replaced a tiring, but so impressive Nicklas Bendtner, and Fraizer and Shola’s paths crossed again 10 minutes later, when our England man committed the cardinal sin of tackling like a forward in the box. Blind Pew on a bad day would have given the penalty. However, Mignolet made a fine save from Ba’s weak kick and hopes rose in Level 7. The ghosts of Tommy Sorenson, Niall Quinn and co floated around in the ether. The win was on.
Except, as we went into added time, Ameobi ghosted into the box and slid in the equaliser. Was Ba offside? Don’t Know. Should Bridge have picked him up? Maybe. Was I downhearted? Yes.
They even had a chance to snatch a completely undeserved win, but Williamson looked as uncomfortable at shooting as Fraizer did at tackling and the whistle went on a frantic, intense and, some would say, evil game of football.
Unfortunately, it did not end there. Cattermole displayed all the diplomatic skills of Idi Amin having a bad hair day when discussing the game and the key decisions with Mike Dean and was given a straight red card for his troubles. Stupid, foolish and once again, his excellent display in midfield is sullied by less praiseworthy antics.
The Newcastle manager, one Alan Pardew, decided that he would have his two pennorth by blaming Cattermole for the frantic game, the surfeit of bookings, global warming and the seven plagues visited on Egypt, in possibly the most mealy mouthed and ungracious interview I have heard since Tony Pulis four weeks ago. Pardew came out with no credit whatsoever and I can quite understand why Arsène Wenger dislikes him so much.
There is plenty to talk about. We can take a lot from our competitive display and some of the pain from last year’s “no show” has been eradicated. This Sunderland side took the game to the home team, outplayed them for 58 minutes and looked as if they were going to hang on. The progress that this group of players has made under Martin O’Neill and Steve Walford was never clearer than it was from Level 7.
Unfortunately, Sessegnon, Gardner and Cattermole will all miss games, but it gives Colback, Vaughan, Campbell, Meyler and a couple of others the chance to put down a marker for the cup tie at Everton.
Liverpool this week – after the diving rolling Tiote, we welcome the diving, rolling Suarez to the Stadium of Light. Looking forward to it …