COMETH the hour, cometh the man.
Invariably in a Tyne-Wear derby, that man is Shola Ameobi.
Ameobi’s been written off countless times over the past few years, but there’s life in his Newcastle United career yet.
The 30-year-old was laid low by sickness on the eve of the game, but leaving the striker out wasn’t an option.
Not in a derby, certainly.
Whatever his faults, Ameobi’s record against Sunderland speaks for itself.
And thanks to the 30-year-old’s late, late intervention the club’s pride remains intact after a derby at St James’s Park which was as ill-tempered – and fiercely-contested – as any in recent memory.
This game had just about everything.
There was the good, the bad and the ugly. It got very ugly at times, but it was compulsive and compelling viewing.
It was rough-edged, but the derbies aren’t about polish.
They’re about passion and pride, and there wasn’t a shortage of either at St James’s Park early yesterday afternoon.
From first whistle to last – and even after that – there was drama, with Lee Cattermole’s crude challenge on Cheik Tiote, and cruder verbals as he left the field, bookmarking a contest which was as enthralling as it was unseemly.
It was also unmissable as a spectacle.
Admittedly, Newcastle never got going as an attacking force in the first half.
They competed physically, but that came at the expense of their passing game, and Alan Pardew’s side were wasteful of what possession they did have in a frustrating 45 minutes.
Strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse were isolated, their supply lines cut off by an organised, if not always disciplined, visiting team.
Up to a late rally, Michael Turner and John O’Shea dealt comfortably with everything United threw at them, and Newcastle never got in behind them.
That, however, was to change with the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa for the second half.
When Ben Arfa took to the field, his team-mates were trailing 1-0, Nicklas Bendtner having scored from the spot in the 24th minute after Mike Williamson hauled down Turner.
There were plenty of challenges – James McClean’s lunge at Danny Simpson led to a scuffle involving just about every player, and a combative Yohan Cabaye was also among those booked – but clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Fabricio Coloccini, at least, tested Simon Mignolet as the break neared, and Ba hit the crossbar with a header late in the half.
The interval saw goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman sent to the stands because of an incident in the tunnel.
On came Ben Arfa for the second half in what was a bold move from Pardew, with Ryan Taylor reverting to left-back in place of Davide Santon, who – much like Cisse – had struggled to get to grips with the pace and intensity of his first derby.
Ben Arfa went on to torment Sunderland, whose dogged and determined performance slowly unravelled throughout the second half.
Stephane Sessegnon, a danger before the interval, was sent off for an inexplicable elbow on Tiote in front of referee Mike Dean, who in total showed eight yellow cards – and three reds, if Woodman’s is included – during a gutsy, old-fashioned derby.
For all the joy Ben Arfa was getting on the flank, a breakthrough eluded Newcastle until the 82nd minute, when Ameobi, another substitute, was tripped by Fraizer Campbell.
Cue a touchline confrontation between Pardew and Martin O’Neill which United’s manager labelled “unsavoury”.
Maybe Ameobi should have taken the penalty, but for whatever reason he didn’t, and Ba’s effort was turned away by Mignolet.
But you can’t keep a good man down, and Ameobi’s seventh derby goal – only Jackie Milburn (11) has scored more – claimed a point, the least United deserved from the 146th meeting between the two sides.
There’s been better footballing Tyne-Wear games over the past few decades, but few will have been so gripping, so visceral and so intense.
In this part of the world, the game’s still not for the faint-hearted.
And long may that continue.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 8; Simpson 7, Williamson 7, Coloccini 8, Santon 5 (Ben Arfa 46, 8); R Taylor 7 (Lovenkrands 88), Cabaye 6, Tiote 7, Gutierrez 6; Cisse 6 (Shola Ameobi 72, 8), Ba 6. Subs not used: Elliot, Perch, Guthrie, Obertan.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet; Bardsley, O’Shea, Turner, Richardson (Bridge 85); Larsson (Colback 83), Gardner, Cattermole, McClean; Bendtner (Campbell 71); Sessegnon. Subs not used: Gordon, Kilgallon, Vaughan, Meyler.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Shola Ameobi. Not for the first time, and probably not for the last time, Ameobi played a decisive part in a derby.
HIGHLIGHT: What else but Ameobi’s goal? All’s never lost in a derby when Ameobi’s on the field.
LOWLIGHT: Demba Ba’s penalty. Had the striker scored, Newcastle might well have gone on to win.
Goals: Bendtner 24, Ameobi 90
Bookings: Cattermole 1, Cabaye 13, McClean 19, Simpson 19, Ba 23, Williamson 24, Gardner 51, Tiote 67
Sent off: Sessegnon 58, Cattermole 90
Referee: Mike Dean (The Wirral)
Attendance: 52,388 (2,650 Sunderland)