Defoe vs Newcastle
This season it looks as if the annual Great Escape (cue film music) is not going to take place. The Championship beckons and the absence of the six points that we usually get from Newcastle could well scupper us.
Two years ago we were in a similar position. Gus Poyet had been dismissed to move on to better things in Greece and Spain (he is currently unemployed) and experienced coach Dick Advocaat had been brought in. He had lost his first game at West Ham thanks to a late goal and things did not look good.
Enter Newcastle United.
The Wear-Tyne Derby is, without doubt, the most intense in the United Kingdom. It’s a game that is played out in front of 100,000 Mackems and Geordies – no visiting Scandinavians, Koreans or Americans just real supporters who follow their clubs in live action and not through the medium of television. It is intense, high octane and occasionally violent and they are the first games that every Sunderland and Newcastle United supporter looks for when the fixtures come out.
Both sides were struggling two years ago. Poyet had left in March and Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew had departed earlier to be replaced by John Carver. Carver was a former head coach who played on his Geordie roots but who had supervised an alarming slide down the league, putting the Mags in a possible relegation fight.
So, this particular derby took on a greater significance than many others in the past. It was eagerly anticipated but there was a great deal of worry in both camps as the day dawned – Easter Sunday, April 5th 2015.
I drove to this one myself. My usual travelling companion was at his daughters in Bedfordshire so nobody to talk to on the way there. As I was driving, I didn’t go for a drink and sat in the car waiting for the teams to appear on BBC Newcastle. Then a brisk walk to the ground, following the route of the Northumbria Police helicopter as it supervised the arrival of the visiting fans and their placement upstairs in the North Stand.
The game was a poor one. The nerves showed from both sides. Advocaat had to work with the players that Poyet had left him including Jermain Defoe. He had been exchanged for the wretched Jozy Altidore who had experienced a miserable time on Wearside and who had gone to Toronto in a swap deal.
Defoe had scored twice against Burnley in January but the goals had dried up. His place was in some doubt but the lack of alternatives (Danny Graham) meant that he stayed in situ. Thank goodness for that….
The goal came in added time at the end of the first half. Defoe latched on to a header from Steven Fletcher and, from 22 yards, volleyed in a stunning shot which left Tim Krul clawing at air. There was a silence for a fraction of a second and then 44,000 red and whites erupted.
It was a defining moment for Jermain Defoe at Sunderland. No matter what else he did after that (and he has done plenty) he will always be remembered for that one stupendous volley and for the tears that followed as he went down the tunnel at half time.
The rest of the game was as nondescript as the forty five minutes that preceded the wonder strike but it was a moment that will never be forgotten. The sight of grown men and women leaping about as the ball hit the net and then hugging each other every time it was shown on the big screen at half time and at the end was something which will stick in the memory of every Sunderland supporter in that ground – and in the craw of every Newcastle supporter up in the North Stand or watching on television.
In the 53 years I have watched Sunderland few goals have given me as much pleasure. Thanks to the organisational skills of Advocaat and even a goal from Danny Graham we managed to dodge the bullet. I fear that there will be no repeat next year and that it may well be a while before we lock horns with the Black and Whites again.
Written by Sunderland fan Peter Sixsmith from salutsunderland.com.
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