20 March ~ With both Newcastle and Sunderland battling for Premier League survival, today’s Tyne-Wear derby takes on extra significance. No matter what the result there is a chance that both clubs will be relegated, which could lead to a situation reminiscent of 1990, when they were locked in a fight for promotion from the second tier.
Then, with Newcastle having finished third and Sunderland sixth, they met in the play-off semi-finals. After drawing the first leg 0-0 at Roker Park, Sunderland took the lead early at St James’ Park through Eric Gates. The score stayed like that until the 85th minute when the scorer turned provider, slotting a pass through to Marco Gabbiadini, who finished coolly in the bottom corner. That goal prompted a pitch invasion by Newcastle fans and the match was halted for 18 minutes, before the players returned to play out the remaining seconds.
Sunderland went on to lose the play-off final but went up anyway, after the winners Swindon were denied promotion because of breaking Football League regulations on payments to players. This was much to the chagrin of Newcastle, who had finished third, six points and three places ahead of Sunderland.