Sunderland beat Newcastle 3-0 for the second time in nine months in a pulsating Tyne-Wear derby at St James’ Park.
The victory means Gus Poyet has won 11 from 23 games with a club who were bottom of the league and without a win in seven matches when he took charge.
A first half penalty from Fabio Borini and a close-range effort from Adam Johnson gave Sunderland a half-time lead, while Jack Colback scored late in the second half.
A frantic first half was dominated in the early stages by the away side, who were better in possession and played with an urgency that Newcastle failed to deal with.
Newcastle did have opportunities wasted in good areas – both through Davide Santon – and they gifted Sunderland an opening on 18 minutes. A clumsy tackle from Vernon Anita on Phil Bardsley gave Borini the chance to put Sunderland in the lead, and the Italian duly smashed home.
The well-taken penalty into Tim Krul’s top right was Borini’s second goal in a Tyne-Wear derby since joining Sunderland on loan in September.
With St James’ Park agitated, Sunderland continued to push and probe and, within five minutes of Borini’s opener, had doubled their lead. Krul parried Colback’s shot across goal into the path of Johnson, who finished from four yards for his sixth goal in his last five games.
Jozy Altidore played a key role in the build-up to Sunderland’s second, perfectly executing a flick into the path of the on-running Colback, and the American was outstanding for Sunderland in the first half – holding up play, frustrating and bustling his way through a Newcastle defence that could not handle him.
Conversely, Sunderland dealt with the minimal threat of Shola Ameobi with ease. The home side were largely limited to shots from range, and even then they were not given the time or space for pot-shots. Hatem Ben Arfa tried and failed, repeatedly, to wriggle his way through a stubborn Sunderland defence, while Sammy Ameobi was the least effective player on the pitch.
The big openings that Newcastle had in the first half came after some rare patient build-up across the penalty area. Shola Ameobi’s attempted turn and shot was eventually mopped up by Bardsley while, with half-time looming, Ben Arfa had the chance to place the ball across but chose to smash it out for a throw-in instead.
Sunderland were better in every position in the opening 45 so it was hardly surprising when Alan Pardew made a change at half-time. Loan signing Luuk De Jong even had the first chance after the break, shooting tamely straight at Vito Mannone.
Sunderland continued to have the upper hand on their biggest rivals but actually seemed able to take the foot off the gas a little.
Phil Bardsley, particularly, starred for Sunderland, containing Ben Arfa again and again. Johnson was also a stand-out player, and at one point the Wearside-born winger jinked his way around three Newcastle defenders and fired a fierce shot against the post. Johnson is, surely, now firmly in the thoughts of England manager Roy Hodgson.
Chieck Tiote did go close for Newcastle but his shot was acrobatically saved by Mannone. And it was Sunderland academy product Colback who completed the scoring and topped off a fine afternoon for the midfielder, brilliantly placing the ball into the top corner from 10 yards.
Sunderland closed the game out with ease, with Newcastle offering little, but the Wearside team were outstanding from the first whistle. The changes that Poyet has brought in have been resoundingly successful, making further mockery of Paolo Di Canio’s disparaging remarks about the club and certain players earlier this week.
Difficult characters have, seemingly, been turned around, while players like Johnson and Ki-Sun Yeung are thriving. In Colback, Ki and new signing Liam Bridcutt – who was brilliant on his debut in such a testing fixture – Sunderland have a midfield packed with creativity, poise and hard work.
They play with a similar urgency and directness as they always have but there’s now an added precision and zip in their play. To simply get the results that Poyet has gained as Sunderland boss would be remarkable but do it in such style shows a much more shrewd approach to management than the previous manager.
While Newcastle look like enduring a tough last four months to the season with a beleaguered and tepid squad, Sunderland are now mid-table and, currently, look like a side capable of rising higher still.