THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Mackems unsure where season is heading

ion baowngoal23 October ~ Both Sunderland and Newcastle have started this season in subdued fashion. So when they played each other on Sunday, a victory for either side had the potential to define the year so far for both teams. In the end, a 1-1 draw provided very few conclusions. Sunderland performed poorly, labouring to break down a ten-man Newcastle side for over 60 minutes. Things need to improve at the Stadium of Light and Demba Ba's own goal papered over the cracks but there are few better times for that than in the 86th minute of a local derby.

This was a mirror image of the 1-1 draw in Newcastle last season. The away side scored and looked the better team, before having a player sent off, protecting the lead for most of the game, then conceding a late equaliser. Considering his aggressive attitude and style of play, it's incredible that this was Cheick Tiote's first red card in the Premier League but like any dismissal, the sending off for a foul on Steven Fletcher changed the game completely.

Sitting back on their 1-0 lead, Newcastle defended well and Sunderland didn't give them too much to worry about. As pressure built on the home side they were disjointed and slow. On the wings – where Sunderland should have been stretching their depleted rivals – there was frustration. Adam Johnson was heavily marked and didn't look completely fit, while James McClean is struggling with not being a first-season surprise to opposing defences.

Sunderland's performances haven't been good so far and their form makes very dull reading. Since that Cup quarter-final defeat to Everton in March, the Black Cats have played 15 league games, won one (against a ten-man Wigan), lost four and drawn ten. It's said to be a good sign that a team can play badly and still get a point but that also requires winning occasionally.

Painfully for Sunderland fans, results against Newcastle, even with radically different teams and managers, have been dreadful. Of the last 14 games on Wearside, Sunderland have won only one. There are many possible explanations: Newcastle play the occasion better, Sunderland seem to lose discipline and feel more pressure in these games, falling apart when their supporters least want them to. The teams certainly haven't been this drastically different in recent final league positions.

So Ba's header past Tim Krul was a great relief, another derby defeat was avoided and another draw was chalked up. The cracks were papered over but it makes a pleasant change from Sunderland opening up great crevices during this fixture. And no one really needs to see Alan Pardew's smug post-victory grin more than is really necessary. Sunderland fans are desperately hoping that this is a poor period of form rather than a purple patch but still have no idea what this season will bring. Ed Upright

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