Picture Credit: Roker Report
Sunday 23rd October 2005
Newcastle 3-2 Sunderland
The 05/06 season was a strange one for the fans of Newcastle United. Up until February, the odious Graeme Souness was mismanaging the club into oblivion and highlights were in very short supply. A reflection of the appalling job Souness was doing was the amount of 'Chop Souey' headlines in the local media. Thankfully Glenn Roader replaced him, cleared up the mess NUFC was in and even managed European qualification in a remarkable end of season run that included away wins over local rivals Sunderland (4-1 having been behind at halftime) and Middlesbrough as well as memorable home victories against Everton, West Brom, Wigan and champions Chelsea. Once club legend Roeder had fans and players enjoying their football again, we even had time to celebrate Alan Shearer breaking the club record by scoring his 201st NUFC goal in a 2-0 win over Portsmouth before netting the winner in his testimonial at home to Celtic.
With the season just three months old, Newcastle welcomed old enemy Sunderland to St James' Park knowing that only a victory would satisfy the restless locals. If the Toon had experienced a mixed start to their season, the Mackems had endured a simply shocking one. They'd had just one win in their first nine matches and were sitting rock bottom of the table where they would remain for the entire season eventually going down with the lowest points total in Premiership history (a record astonishingly beaten by Derby County just two years later). This early season form would count for nothing however on derby day where an intense atmosphere caused both sets of players to raise their game and become world beaters in one of the most enjoyable Tyne-Wear clashes in living memory.
Newcastle warmed up for this one with an appalling 1-0 defeat away to Wigan Athletic coming soon after an atrocious 0-0 draw with Portsmouth whereas Sunderland fans bizarrely took heart from being recently hammered at home to Manchester United. The truth was that neither side was particularly exciting to watch and there was a very real danger that a scrappy 0-0 damp squib would take the gloss off the occasion despite it being the biggest match of the season. Believe it or not, the nerves were actually cranked up pre-match with the news that Micheal Owen was injured (surprise, surprise) and would play no part in the proceedings. These days, our former striker is one of the most loathed individuals in our recent history but back then he represented hope in a fairly toothless NUFC attack. We needn't have worried. A young man named Shola Ameobi would make a name for himself by scoring a host of memorable derby goals and today would prove to be the first chapter in his 'Mackem Slayer' legacy.
As always on derby day, the tension around the town was palpable. A heavy police presence signalled the importance of the match and even the fans on the street were defiantly singing songs of previous derby victories in an attempt to stifle the non-stop chanting of the away fans being escorted to the stadium. My own nerves were already at breaking point when I realised I’d forgotten my ticket. Unfortunately this meant I had to forgo my pre-match pint to head to the box office and let them know my predicament in order to get a reprint. Thankfully I managed to get in and was able to witness one of the games of the season.
Derby games by their very nature tend to be cagey affairs where nerves and pressure stifle creativity and the stakes become too high for the necessary risk taking that an open attacking match entails. When a burly Sunderland henchman was booked after just thirty four seconds for a cynical foul, it looked like the scene was set for another Mackem hack'em hatchet job where spoiling tactics are employed to turn the match into something more akin to WWF wrestling! Thankfully today would turn out to be the most free-flowing and entertaining Tyne-Wear derby of the Premiership era packed with goals, excitement, near misses and ultimate glory for the black and whites who would end the day wildly celebrating a memorable victory over their arch enemies.
Picture Credit: Chronicle Live
The first thirty four minutes saw both sides attempt to make the breakthrough without much success. Half chances came and went but the real action was taking place in the stands where Geordies and Mackems competed to gain the upper hand in an ear-splitting atmosphere where a wall of sound greeted the players onto the pitch and wouldn't settle down until long after full time. Every Newcastle touch was cheered to the rafters whereas each Sunderland song was booed and drowned out by chants supporting NUFC. Sunderland players were jeered and ridiculed at every opportunity in an attempt to create an advantage for NUFC. When a corner was awarded to the home side with just eleven minutes of the first half remaining, a roar of encouragement went up. We could have had no idea this would spark a scoring spree that would lead to the ball hitting the net on four separate occasions in just seven minutes.
Turkish superstar Emre had failed to live up to his reputation since arriving over the summer from Inter Milan but today he was going to have a very big impact indeed. His flag kick was swung into the danger zone and with Alan Shearer being marked by two Sunderland defenders, Ameobi found a yard of space in the box to bullet a header past the helpless 'keeper. This was a spectacular goal, similar to Asprilla against Barcelona and sent the vast majority of St James Park into raptures! Before these celebrations had subsided however a speculative long range effort from the red and whites at the opposite end of the pitch bounced awkwardly in front of Shay Given and drew the away side immediately level. The equalising goal came just ninety seconds after Shola's header and actually cut short our own celebrations midflow.
The frustration was almost tangible, having waited most of the half to go in front we were now back to square one. With the Toon fans in a state of frenzy and the Mackem supporters overjoyed at their own good fortune, back came NUFC hoping to regain the lead. Just two minutes later Charles N'Zogbia hooked the ball across the face of goal and Shola Ameobi was once again at hand to bury a header at the Leazes End, this time via a deflection. The euphoria and relief from Toon fans eclipsed the first goal by a mile. We'd survived the scare of an equaliser and had very quickly got our noses back in front. As forty nine thousand Magpies restarted the party, we were to a man utterly convinced that going 2-1 up would mean Newcastle United were ready to take this game by the scruff of its neck and finally show our Wearside rivals who's boss. How wrong we were! For the second time that day, our unbridled joy was cruelly cut short. Just three minutes later another Sunderland effort from outside the box flew past Shay Given. There seemed very little danger with the ball over twenty five yards from goal but as our defenders stood off him, the Mackem striker smacked an effort that rifled into the top corner. Credit where credit is due, this was a magnificent goal but I'm sure I'm not alone in saying it made me feel utterly sick. It was bad enough throwing away the 1-0 lead but to then go imminently 2-1 ahead only to carelessly toss this away too was just maddening. When the referee blew his halftime whistle soon after it was to allow the fans as much as the players a hard earned breather.
Picture Credit: Daily Mail
Halftime went by in a blur. With so many talking points we could have chatted for five times longer than the allocated quarter of an hour on just that seven minute scoring spree alone. The consensus was that Newcastle had been the better team but Sunderland had scored two quality goals out of nothing. There was no telling what the second half may bring. Either side could be celebrating at the end of the match. The one thing that was certain was that this one would live long in the memory and both sets of fans were hoping and praying one of their heroes could conjure up one more moment of magic to ensure derby delight.
Understandably the second half started at a slightly slower pace than the frantic ending to the first as both sides attempted to find their rhythm. It would take eighteen minutes for the perfect opportunity to present itself at the Gallowgate End when United were awarded an attacking freekick. A buzz went round the stadium, United had an array of set piece specialists and the sight of Shearer, Solano and Emre standing over the ball was an embarrassment of riches. SAFC have never had a player in their entire history fit to lace the boots of any one of this trio and today one of them was going to blast home the goal of the game to win a simply pulsating match. It's not often Alan Shearer ran over the ball but when he left the opportunity to Emre, he allowed the young Turk the chance to whip the ball over the wall and past the 'keeper into the net via the right hand post. As the Tyneside crowd exploded into the autumn afternoon, Emre sprinted to the NUFC dugout to be mobbed by jubilant staff and teammates. Black and white fans did the same in the stands as groups of total strangers embraced one another in prolonged scenes of utter euphoria. The frustration and bitter recriminations of both Sunderland equalisers instantly forgotten as the match took on another turn for the better. Newcastle had twenty five minutes to close down the game and emerge victorious.
Picture Credit: premierleague.com
All around me, the party was in full swing. Fans who were previously racked with nerves and worry were now singing and hugging in pure ecstasy as the celebrations refused to die down. Fair play to the Sunderland players who didn't roll over but came back at United in an attempt to find their third equaliser of the day. With less than twenty minutes to play, they were a touch unlucky not to be awarded a penalty. These were the days before VAR and although there was definite contact in the box, the referee was perhaps put off by the dramatic way their attacker threw himself to the turf. Soon after there was an even bigger scare for NUFC when Given was lobbed from just outside the box and the ball sailed through the air and seemingly into an empty net. Thankfully it bounced off the crossbar and away to safety. Newcastle fans who had been presumptuously celebrating victory since going 3-2 up were given a sharp reminder that the match was not yet over and a win was by no means assured.
Two incidents involving local lad Steven Taylor would determine the final score and ultimate Toon triumph. Firstly our defender had the chance to score his first for the club and put the match beyond all doubt. He found himself in acres of space alone in the box and blasted a header on target from point black range that brought a superb save. Secondly he made himself even more useful at the other end of the pitch when clearing a goal bound Sunderland effort off the line. This would prove to be the last chance the black cats had to salvage a draw and the desperate whistling from the home fans finally brought about the same from the referee to signal full time. Newcastle had done it! 3-2 against our arch rivals in a match that could have finished any score!
The early kick off meant that there was plenty of the day left to celebrate our famous result. My best mate Lewis and I were lucky enough to be in the Leazes End for the match and were greeted like long lost brothers by pals who had spent the match drinking in local pubs. A hastily arranged bar crawl saw glass after glass raised to Shola Ameobi, Steven Taylor, Alan Shearer, Charles N'zogbia and of course the scorer of the winning goal Emre Belozoglu.
When we look back on Graeme Souness' disastrous reign at the helm, there aren't many memories to warm the heart. This derby victory however was extra special and left every single Toon fan enjoying a large portion of Turkish Delight.
Picture Credit: Daily Mail