SUNDERLAND 0 NEWCASTLE UNITED 1

Jack Colback rues his fluffed shot on goal.
Jack Colback rues his fluffed shot on goal.
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IT has got to the point now where it is just an embarrassment.

A horrible, shameful embarrassment.

One home win in the derby in 30 years makes Sunderland’s claims to be the current North East top dogs ring hollow.

And even if the Black Cats have finished above the Magpies in each of the past three seasons, they have failed to come up with the goods when it actually matters – when the two teams face each other across the pitch on the banks of the Wear.

While the long-term record in itself is abysmal, the run has reached new heights during Steve Bruce’s time in charge.

Last year was, of course, the 5-1 defeat at St James’ Park – the worst loss in over half a century – but we shouldn’t forget the dreadful performance in the return at the Stadium of Light when hapless Sunderland went AWOL again before scrambling a fluked equaliser they didn’t deserve in the dying minutes.

It’s an irony that when it comes to the game Bruce wants to win above all others, his players seem incapable of conjuring a performance worthy of the name for him

Those who would defend his side would point to the fact that Sunderland dominated the first half on Saturday and were the better side overall until Ryan Taylor’s 62nd-minute goal.

But, for all their possession, Sunderland were poor in front of goal and United keeper Tim Krul only had a couple of fairly routine saves to make before the break, despite the home team’s admirable attacking intent.

In fact, if any side deserved to be ahead at half-time, it was Newcastle – Howard Webb failing to spot Seb Larsson handle a Joey Barton header on the line just 15 minutes into the game for what should have been a stonewall penalty.

For the second game in a row, Sunderland could have had no complaints if they had conceded a spot-kick and been a man down in the opening stages.

As it was, Larsson’s mistake went unpunished, but even then Sunderland failed to capitalise on their good fortune.

Despite dominating the first half, they began to run out of ideas in the second and Newcastle visibly gained in confidence as Sunderland lost their way.

They had only themselves to blame for giving away a cheap free-kick which led to the only goal and only themselves to blame for not defending better when Taylor scored – keeper Simon Mignolet getting his positioning wrong as the ball sailed over him and into the far corner.

The game should not have irretrievable at that point, but, having failed with Plan A, Sunderland didn’t really seem to have a Plan B and the last half-hour was like death by a thousand cuts for home fans who had arrived with such hope in their hearts for the midday kick-off.

Despite their own limitations – for Newcastle do not look a good side – the visitors still managed twice as many efforts on target than Sunderland did.

And, disgracefully, in a game of such magnitude, Bruce’s men failed to manage a single shot on target in the whole of the second half.

In the end, there could be no complaints.

They were well beaten.

Bizarrely, given the past record, no-one had expected it to be this way.

The sell-out crowd expected a Sunderland win; a draw at the very least, given the quality and number of summer signings made, followed by the Black Cats’ hugely encouraging draw at Liverpool the previous week.

Even visiting manager Alan Pardew admitted afterwards his side would have been rated very much as underdogs, given the prevailing state of affairs at both clubs.

Sunderland were unchanged from the side which did so well at Anfield, while Newcastle made just one change to the team which ground out an opening-day goalless draw against Arsenal.

Even that was good news for Sunderland – main goalscoring threat Demba Ba, having picked up a strain, was left on the bench and Gabriel Obertan was drafted into a defensive-looking line-up.

Newcastle needed that defensive strength in the opening stages as Sunderland made a blistering start, roared on by a crowd generating an absolutely fantastic atmosphere.

Stephane Sessegnon, Sunderland’s only consistent goal-scoring threat in the game, drove a shot wide inside the first 60 seconds – a warning shot across the bows from the Wearsiders.

There was no doubting Sunderland were pumped up for the occasion and Ahmed Elmohamady had fans off their seats in the third minute when he skinned full-back Ryan Taylor before overhitting his cross.

But the warning signs were already there for Sunderland: a wayward shot, an overhit cross.

And that was the order of the day for the remainder of the half as time and again, Sunderland failed to make the most of their openings.

Only twice was Krul genuinely extended in the opening 45 minutes – both times by Sessegnon – tipping one shot over the cross-bar in the eighth minute and parrying another out for a corner half an hour later.

On the stroke of half-time, the otherwise subdued Gyan sprang into life, seizing on a loose ball and swivelling to drive a shot goalwards which shaved the crossbar.

And that was pretty much it, despite Sunderland’s bluster.

True, Sunderland would have gone into the break in good heart after being on top for so much of the game.

But then so would Newcastle – they had chances of their own – Fabricio Coloccini nodding one header wide, Yohan Cabaye forcing Mignolet to tip his long-range shot over the bar, Shola Ameobi going close after a Wes Brown mistake.

And, of course, the main talking point at the break was the penalty Newcastle should have had and sending-off Sunderland should have suffered – both of which were never given.

Sunderland started the second half as brightly as they had the first, but they faded alarmingly as they failed to penetrate a defence in which Coloccini and Steven Taylor were outstanding.

Newcastle seemed to sense that frustration and showed composure with the Black Cats in danger of running out of ideas. Under half-time orders from Pardew to take greater care with their passing, they did exactly that, as Sunderland did the opposite.

Bruce’s men needed a break, a bit of luck, something to go their way.

It might have arrived on the hour when Kieran Richardson was tripped in the Newcastle area by Cheik Tiote, but referee Webb, having allowed the Larsson infringement to pass, was not going to punish a nothing collision which looked clumsy rather than calculated.

Then came the game’s defining moment when Cattermole cheaply gave away a free-kick on the left-hand edge of the Sunderland area when he blocked the lively Jonas Gutierrez and Ryan Taylor stepped up to curl a perfect right-foot shot around the stranded Mignolet and into the far corner of his goal.

Newcastle fans behind the net exploded into celebration, leaving home supporters to smart and pray for a comeback.

It never came.

Sunderland tried to up the tempo again, but they lacked fluency and the only item of note in the minutes that followed was Cattermole picking up a booking for a foul on Joey Barton.

Bruce rolled the dice with 20 minutes remaining – on came Craig Gardner and Ji Dong-won for Elmohamady and Richardson. With 10 minutes to go, he introduced Connor Wickham for Larsson.

But even with four strikers on the pitch and a free-scoring central midfielder, Sunderland failed to really scare Newcastle.

Far from improving things, the subs failed to sparkle – Ji too easily brushed off the ball; Wickham not even being able to find a first touch.

A couple of weak attempts on goal from Gyan was all Sunderland could muster as Bruce’s men finished with a whimper rather than a bang.

All that was left for the hosts was to show commitment, but even that didn’t work out for them – Bardsley red-carded in the dying stages for a studs-showing challenge on Coloccini to pick up his second booking.

Mignolet redeemed himself somewhat with a fine one-on-one save to deny substitute Dan Gosling on the stroke of full-time to avoid greater humiliation.

But, as far as consolations go, it was no consolation at all.

Home fans looked dumbstruck at the final whistle as Newcastle fans enjoyed choruses of “Let’s all laugh at Sunderland”.

All around the Stadium of Light you could see the feel-good factor, built up over the course of the summer, evaporating in front of your very eyes.

Bruce will do what he has to do, which is to try looking at the bigger picture.

But, worryingly, the bigger picture is that sorry Sunderland have managed just two home Premier League wins in 2011.