NEWCASTLE United are supposed to be counterattacking specialists but they ended up hoist with their own petard as a brilliant late Sunderland break resulted in Adam Johnson ruining Alan Pardewâ€™s Christmas. Johnsonâ€™s 90th-minute goal ensured his side won their fourth successive game against Newcastle and Gus Poyet his fifth in five managerial duels with them.
Poyetâ€™s infliction of this latest embarrassment was partly due to a man-of-the-match performance from Sebastian Larsson, whose intelligence in central midfield played a big part in wrecking the home teamâ€™s game plan.
As the clocked ticked down and Larsson slowed the tempo, Pardewâ€™s desperation to outwit his nemesis resulted in Newcastleâ€™s manager throwing every available striker on to the pitch. This gung-ho policy nearly paid off but also left the home side horribly vulnerable to counterattacks.
Sunderland had begun on the back foot when Anthony RÃ©veillÃ¨re, Poyetâ€™s only fit left-back, aggravated a calf injury in the warm-up. With John Oâ€™Shea relocated to the left, SebastiÃ¡n Coates stepped in at centre-half. Initially both defenders struggled as Newcastle poured forward and Sunderland struggled to escape their own half, let alone develop the passing fluency Poyet preaches.
On a rare occasion when they broke, Steven Fletcher endured the agony of a sneaky knee in the lower back from Fabricio Coloccini. A little lucky not to be sent off, the Argentinian was booked while Poyetâ€™s anger was exacerbated by Fletcherâ€™s history of back trouble.
The Sunderland managerâ€™s mood was hardly improved when Cheik TiotÃ© committed five unpunished fouls before finally seeing yellow at the sixth attempt. TiotÃ©â€™s indiscipline helped Sunderland not only establish a foothold in the game but create the better chances on an afternoon when, despite playing well in patches, Newcastle forced Costel Pantilimon into only a handful of significant saves.
Two came from Moussa Sissoko shots and another from the lively Ayoze PÃ©rez but neither was quite as dangerous as the moment when Fletcher met Larssonâ€™s first-time through-pass on the volley and the ball brushed the bar.
With a Connor Wickham shot subsequently being touched on to a post by Jak Alnwick and a header from the same player later bringing the best out of Pardewâ€™s third-choice goalkeeper, Sunderland were proving unexpectedly dangerous.
Almost imperceptibly Lee Cattermole began subduing the initially imperious Sissoko, Larssonâ€™s passing range clicked into groove and Wickham menaced when drifting in from the left.
If Wickhamâ€™s booking for clattering Alnwick was less impressive, happily the mood in the stands proved slightly more civilised. When the electronic clock signalled 17 minutes, away fans joined home supportersâ€™ now traditional 60 seconds applause in tribute to John Alder and Liam Sweeney who had been on their way to New Zealand to watch Newcastleâ€™s summer tour when flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine.
Sunderlandâ€™s supporters raised Â£33,000 towards initiatives in the pairâ€™s memory and, in the 33rd minute, their rivals thanked them courtesy of another round of clapping.
In case anybody thought things were becoming too friendly it was immediately followed by a robust reminder that not quite everything had changed. â€œWe hate Sunderland,â€ came the chant but, somehow, it lacked the venom of previous years.
Even so the Gallowgate End were mightily relieved when, with Steven Taylor off the pitch having a facial wound stitched, Jordi GÃ³mez spurned a golden opportunity. If that miss served to galvanise Newcastle, a trio of home substitutions arguably set the scene for Johnsonâ€™s dramatic denouement. Clearly deciding fortune favours the brave, Pardew introduced three attacking players in Adam Armstrong, Papiss CissÃ© and RÃ©my Cabella.
Armstrong showed some excellent movement but the resultant gaps at the back enabled Johnson to miss a glorious chance before making amends seconds after Pantilimon tipped Sissokoâ€™s 30-yard shot on to the bar.
Appropriately Johnson started and finished the decisive move, running half the length of the pitch before Fletcher and then Will Buckley took up the baton. By the time Buckley laid the ball off, the winger had arrived in the area at precisely the right moment to lash the finishing touch beyond Alnwick.
Judging by the look on Pardewâ€™s face he might as well have driven a stake through his heart.
Man of the match Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) – The Guardian