Alek­san­dar the great

New­cas­tle’s hopes alive thanks to Mitro­vic but fan sends him fly­ing

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - FRONT PAGE - Luke Ed­wards at St James’ Park

Like two crabs in a bar­rel fight­ing for their lives, in their des­per­a­tion to climb out of trou­ble, New­cas­tle United and Sun­der­land merely made sure their ri­vals did not get away from them.

A draw was prob­a­bly the fair re­sult in a typ­i­cally fre­netic and fren­zied Tyne-Wear derby that brought re­lief and dis­ap­point­ment in equal mea­sure.

Sun­der­land will feel they threw three points away, given they had looked so com­fort­able af­ter tak­ing the lead through Jer­main De­foe, while New­cas­tle will feel it was a point gained, given they equalised so late through Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic, end­ing a run of six con­sec­u­tive de­feats to their bitterest ri­vals.

Yet, the true ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this re­sult were Nor­wich City and Crys­tal Palace. Nei­ther of the clubs di­rectly below them in the rel­e­ga­tion tus­sle got the win that would have hauled them closer to the drop zone.

A draw was not good enough for ei­ther North-East side. At the end of a high-speed, high-drama, lowqual­ity match, in which the stakes were so high, it was dif­fi­cult for any­one to re­main calm and com­posed. The re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion is that both th­ese big clubs could be play­ing in the Cham­pi­onship next sea­son. It would be a disas­ter for both and this match did lit­tle to sug­gest ei­ther are good enough to avert it.

De­foe might have scored af­ter just two min­utes, but his turn and shot flew into the Gal­low­gate End.

New­cas­tle re­sponded and Mitro­vic volleyed over from a sim­i­lar dis­tance from an An­dros Townsend cross. They are the sort of chances the £12 mil­lion sign­ing from An­der­lecht has been miss­ing all sea­son.

A pat­tern was set, when­ever one side went close to scor­ing, the other – some­times im­me­di­ately – did the same at the other end. They were like two box­ers, low on foot­work, but high on bravado, de­ter­mined to trade punches.

Even­tu­ally a big blow would land, but they mainly swung and missed. Jack Rod­well had a header tipped over the bar from a cor­ner, Moussa Sis­soko might have con­verted a deep cross at the far post but sent it back across goal be­fore Jonjo Shelvey fired wide from the edge of the area.

Sun­der­land re­mained calm and De­foe missed an­other good chance; picked out by Rod­well, he nipped in front of Chan­cel Mbe­mba, but steered a shot wide.

Min­utes later, Townsend cut in­side and his shot was spilled by Vito Man­none. Again, Sun­der­land an­swered, Whabi Khazri drag­ging a shot wide with De­foe inches away from turn­ing it in as it flashed across the face of goal.

New­cas­tle went close again, as Shelvey’s free-kick fell nar­rowly wide, but there was more as­sur­ance in Sun­der­land’s play and they took the lead just be­fore the break. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it came from a set­piece.

A cor­ner was pulled back to Fabio Borini, whose swerv­ing shot through a crowd was su­perbly kept out by goal­keeper Rob El­liot. How­ever, El­liot did not get the ball over the bar and New­cas­tle could not clear the dan­ger. When Mbe­mba failed to get enough dis­tance on a header, the ball fell per­fectly for De­foe – who had wisely dropped away from the scram­ble on the line – to steer it through a nar­row gap.

The goal sparked bed­lam high in the Leazes End where Sun­der­land’s sup­port­ers were gath­ered. It sparked fear and loathing around the rest of the sta­dium.

Rafael Benítez, the New­cas­tle man­ager, was not im­pressed by his side’s first-half dis­play and they were bet­ter in the se­cond, but once again their lack of pen­e­tra­tion go­ing for­ward was a con­cern.

They were al­most level within three min­utes of the restart, but Yann M’Vila was in the right place to clear Ay­oze Perez’s stabbed ef­fort off the line.

New­cas­tle tried to build up a head of steam. Mitro­vic glanced a header straight into the arms of Man­none. Sis­soko missed an even bet­ter chance mo­ments later, badly scuff­ing a vol­ley at the far post af­ter a surg­ing run and cross from Townsend.

Sun­der­land were happy enough and they al­most snatched a se­cond, when New­cas­tle’s weak de­fence could not halt Khazri’s progress and Rod­well smashed a shot, which El­liot did well to get a strong hand to.

Be­lief be­gan to vis­i­bly drain from New­cas­tle. Sun­der­land play­ers grew in stature, sens­ing their hosts’s grow­ing un­ease.

A se­cond goal would have killed New­cas­tle off, but Sun­der­land seemed con­tent to carry on frus­trat­ing them.

Benítez threw on Papiss Demba Cissé as his fi­nal sub­sti­tute, a last throw of the dice. The Sene­gal in­ter­na­tional asked dif­fer­ent ques­tions, play­ing on the shoul­der of the last de­fender. Sun­der­land looked un­sure for the first time.

But it was not Cissé who scored, in­stead it was the cen­tre-for­ward who has in­fu­ri­ated so many who turned him­self into a hero. It was a bril­liant fin­ish from Mitro­vic too, as Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum chipped a cross to the far post and the Serbian rose to head it back across into the bot­tom far cor­ner, nar­rowly evad­ing John O’Shea’s at­tempts at a block.

Mitro­vic ended the game fu­ri­ously ar­gu­ing with Benítez and New­cas­tle’s med­i­cal staff af­ter he was forced to come off with con­cus­sion, mo­ments af­ter the two benches had squared up to each other as ten­sions boiled over.

There were hand­shakes and cud­dles at the end, but the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion will await the ref­eree’s re­port with in­ter­est.

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