Chris Young analysis: Newcastle continue to be Sunderland’s survival lifeline

Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson celebrate
Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson celebrate
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Will there have been many sweeter sounds for Sam Allardyce since being sacked by Mike Ashley, than to hear a chorus thousands-strong demanding a wave?

Not just because it made a welcome change from the relationship with the terraces which Allardyce enjoyed (or endured) at West Ham.

How Sunderland needed that. This season finally... finally has lift-off

Not just because it spelt revenge over the watching Sports Direct magnate who had limited Allardyce’s time at St James’s Park to a measly eight months.

No, when Allardyce succumbed to the Stadium of Light chants and raised his palm in stoppage time, he was able to do so in relaxed knowledge that Sunderland’s survival mission had at last got past the blueprint stage.

Elation. Relief. A rueful smile towards the quirks of Lady Luck after she had given Sunderland the cold shoulder for most of this season.

Allardyce will have gone through all of those wringer of emotions yesterday, but he was ultimately left with a beaming smile at a result which has so much magnitude in finally giving Sunderland’s quest to beat the drop some upwards momentum.

Had Sunderland even come away with a draw yesterday, Allardyce could have been fighting a losing battle before he had even really started in the job.

Now? Now Sunderland have a fighting chance of survival. Regardless of referees, performance or fortune (all of which are of secondary importance to the result in a derby anyway) six-in-a-row resuscitates an ailing club.

How Sunderland needed that. This season finally... finally has lift-off.

But while the hard part is done, now the HARDER part begins.

We’ve been here before. Four times in fact.

Wearside thought the last four derby triumphs spelt a turning point in Sunderland’s fortunes, yet the following week the Black Cats plummeted back to the depths of despair with a dispiriting defeat.

Allardyce faces a tall order to reverse that trend at Everton this coming Sunday, but Sunderland’s plight leaves them needing to drag a few rabbits from hats, particularly before an ominous-looking December fixture list.

At least, the manner of Sunderland’s display yesterday won’t leave anyone in a false sense of security, after they were largely wretched for long periods.

They have played far, far better this season and lost.

Gazing into his crystal ball on Friday afternoon, Allardyce had predicted that whichever team handled the mental pressures of the derby cauldron better would win.

He was wrong.

For the first time since the 1-1 draw in October 2012, prior to Sunderland’s winning run, Newcastle actually showed up for the derby.

The Magpies were first to every 50-50 ball during the first half, calmly and competently kept possession and looked a real threat on the counter-attack through Moussa Sissoko and Georgi Wijnaldum.

By contrast, Sunderland were decidedly edgy and far too deep, with Yann M’Vila and Lee Cattermole sitting rather than pressing - causing Allardyce to urge the whole team forwards midway after the opening 20 minutes.

But it was one of those rare days when virtually everything went for Sunderland.

Newcastle enjoyed 70 per cent of possession throughout the first half, yet suffered from a number of snatched or hurried finishes from the half-chances which came their way.

Even when they had golden, clear-cut opportunities after being reduced to 10 men, Costel Pantilimon – a barrel of nerves before the break – produced a couple of stunning stops to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic and Wijnaldum.

And then there was the game-changing moment in first-half stoppage time.

Was it a foul from Fabricio Coloccini on Steven Fletcher? Anywhere else on the pitch, and there would have been little argument.

Was it a red card? Surely if referee Robert Madley gave the foul, then he had to dismiss Coloccini for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

Admittedly, many officials would have ignored the incident and waved play on, but Sunderland got a break.

Even the minor things went for Sunderland. An injury to Ola Toivonen was a blessing in disguise after he had been pretty awful for the opening half-hour, with replacement Jermain Defoe laying on the pass for the penalty.

And the injury to Jack Colback – visited by Lee Cattermole in the away dressing room afterwards to check on his condition – early in the second half, removed a player who was making Newcastle tick.

The only moment which went against Sunderland was Johnson being denied a copy-cat goal from the 2013 3-0 win, when his shot came back off the crossbar.

But while the rub of the green went for Sunderland, the result was all that mattered in their current plight and they scrapped, battled and clawed their way to an all-important three points.

No, there wasn’t enough to convince that Sunderland will be out of the relegation dogfight when the season enters its business end.

For that matter, a profligate Newcastle didn’t demonstrate that either.

But Sunderland as a club, a city and a fanbase were ravenous for that win.

Players who have been mentally bruised black and blue, needed a confidence boost before it was too late.

After Steven Fletcher’s clinching third goal, derby hero and Echo columnist Gary Rowell pondered in the press box “Where would Sunderland be without Newcastle?”

Relegated, is the answer.

After so many years of hurt and underachievement in this fixture, Newcastle have become Sunderland’s lifeline.

Thank God for the derby.