MARTIN O’Neill pinpointed Stephane Sessegnon’s dismissal as the obvious turning point of yesterday’s pulsating Tyne-Wear derby.
And it was clear that he felt that Sunderland could have gone on to win the game were it not for the Benin international’s rush of blood in striking out at Cheik Tiote just before the hour.
“The sending off of Stephane Sessegnon put us on the back foot and we knew we would be under some pressure from then on in,” agreed O’Neill.
“The second half, Newcastle started well and put us under pressure.
“But we were weathering that until the sending off which was the pivotal moment of the game.”
The Black Cats boss was full of praise for his troops for the way they performed in the white-hot atmosphere of the Sports Direct Arena.
On this turf a year previously, the Red and Whites had wilted pathetically, but this time around it was a different matter and, with 11 men on the pitch, Sunderland were well worth their goal advantage.
O’Neill said: “I’m very proud of the players.
“We created all sorts of problems for them, first half, and deserved our lead.
“Second half, we had a great chance of making it 2-0, but they cleared off the line and that was also an important moment.
“Had we scored that, it would have been a long way back for Newcastle from that viewpoint.
“But it wasn’t to be, they cleared it off the line and that gave them great hope.
“Newcastle’s season has been terrific and obviously they were never going to give up.
“But I thought we were coping admirably, even with 10 men, with everything that was put into the box.
“I never thought we were out of the woods – even when Simon Mignolet saved the penalty.
“But when it gets past the 90-minute mark you start to get hopeful that you’re going to see it through.
“I knew it would be a difficult afternoon and so it turned out to be. But I felt the effort of the team and also the effort of the supporters was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.
“I’m delighted with the team.
“We had a lot to make up for after last week’s debacle at West Brom, but we certainly did that.
“We played very strongly and came so close to getting all three points, which I feel we would have deserved.”