SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce didn’t try to dress up yesterday’s derby performance as anything other than it was – a massive disappointment.
The game may have ended honours even, but the Black Cats’ manager was the first to admit his side had got lucky with their late, late equaliser.
And although Sunderland escaped the horrors of a repetition of their 5-1 drubbing at St James’s Park or their rivals doing the double over them, it was still very much a moral defeat as the ninth-placed side in the Premier League out-thought and out-fought their sixth-top rivals on Stadium of Light turf.
“I feel better than I did three months ago,” offered Bruce, wanly, as he attempted a smile.
“But, yes, I’m disappointed we didn’t play to the level we have done at the stadium this season.
“I think we got caught up in the occasion again. We only played for half an hour in the whole game and even then our final ball was poor.
“The way we’ve played against Man United at home and Man City here has been superb, but against Newcastle we just didn’t take part in the game the way I expected.
“Newcastle worked hard and have got more experience than us and I think that showed at times.
“We simply didn’t pass the ball as well as we have done all season at home.
“But we will learn from it, I hope – the young lads have had that experience twice now.”
Bruce pointed out the unique nature of the North East derby – of how the publicity and the pressure starts weeks in advance – and he pointed out, too, that Sunderland were without possibly five or six first-team players.
In the end, though, he simply had to accept that most of his players choked again on the day.
“It got to them,” he conceded wearily. “Normally, all they want to do is take the ball and play it but not in this game.
“Our final ball was dreadful and we were just hitting it long time after time – we’re not equipped to go back to front as a team and that’s all we did.
“We’re a side that is equipped to get the ball down, play it and play in the forwards.
“But we didn’t handle the occasion and, as a result, we just kept knocking it long.
“In a derby game, who scores first is usually vital and once they scored it became a difficult afternoon for us.
“We just ended up chasing it.
“But the one thing you can’t throw at us is that we’re a side that gives up – we were still trying at the death and we’ve had half a dozen players in their box at the end when we got the equaliser, which was pleasing.”