VETERAN though he may be of Old Firm derbies and full-blooded West Midlands showdowns, Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill admitted that his first experience of a Tyne-Wear derby was an utterly exhilarating one.
The new Black Cats manager had never been present in the ground for this fixture in his long career and had told the Echo beforehand that he was very much looking forward to his first taste of it.
After yesterday’s dramatic 1-1 draw, he admitted it had been every bit as intense an occasion as he had expected – even if the final result wasn’t quite what he wanted.
“The derby was everything that people had told me about it,” O’Neill enthused.
“There was the hostility – which I’m kind of used to.
“There was fervour.
“It had everything, everything.”
O’Neill didn’t mind the stick he got from Newcastle fans – it helped his focus and stiffened his resolve as Sunderland came within a few seconds of taking all three points.
“In a perverse sort of way, I was enjoying it,” he said of the stick. “And you have to be pretty perverse to enjoy that.
“I’m obviously disappointed at the end of the game, but it really was something as a fixture. The noise was deafening, the atmosphere was great and I’m looking forward already to the return as the Stadium of Light next season, provided we’re still in this division!”
What would, of course, have made it extra special was if Sunderland could have held on for just a few seconds more to claim a first win on Tyneside since 2000.
“One point gained or two points dropped?” he mused afterwards
“I think it’s two points that have slipped through our fingers.
“I can take consolation from the fact that we took a point from the game.
“But I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to hold on for another couple of minutes and take all three.
“Had we done so, I would have been coming into the post-match Press conference and saying I thought we deserved it – because we would have.”