Cats Eye View: Magpie slayer Johnson makes his mark at last in Sunderland derby win

Steven Fletcher (left) celebrates scoring Sunderland's third derby goal with Adam Johnson
Steven Fletcher (left) celebrates scoring Sunderland's third derby goal with Adam Johnson

A psychologist would have had a field day analysing the pre-derby press conferences of Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren.

The Newcastle boss took the stance of playing the fixture down, claiming – publicly at least – that it was “just another game”.

Big Sam, meanwhile, acknowledged the importance of the fixture and the fierce rivalry. For some, Allardyce had struck the first blow in his bullish approach while also confirming he would be going gung-ho in a bid to kick-start Sunderland’s season and earn a record-breaking sixth consecutive derby win in the process.

His first team sheet on his home debut as Black Cats boss didn’t disappoint.

With Fabio Borini missing with an ankle injury, Allardyce recalled Jeremain Lens, Adam Johnson and Ola Toivonen in an attacking line-up.

Or at least that was the plan. Instead, it was McClaren’s Newcastle who grabbed the initiative.

Outplaying and outpressing Sunderland, the hosts hardly had a kick in the opening stages.

A mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Costel Pantilimon kept them at bay until the 45th minute.

The penalty decision that turned the momentum in Sunderland’s – and Johnson’s – favour. Out of the recalled trio, the former Middlesbrough, Manchester City and England winger was the one who stood out.

Toivonen – subbed after 36 minutes through injury – wasn’t at the races while it took Lens a while to get into his rhythm.

Following the injuries to Toivonen and captain John O’Shea, Sunderland switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2 system.

They were more balanced and attack-minded as a result.

It suited Johnson, who swept home the penalty with precision and power to send Sunderland into the half-time break ahead.

His goal celebration sparked a lot of debate, after running the full length of the pitch towards the away end, similar to when Emmanuel Adebayor, playing for Man City, celebrated in front of fans of his former club Arsenal.

There are, of course, home supporters underneath the away section at the Stadium of Light, but he seemed intent on celebrating in front of the Newcastle supporters who had been taunting him throughout.

Could he face disciplinary action from the Football Association as a result? Possibly. Adebyaor was punished with a £25,000 fine and two-match ban (suspended).

Johnson’s ongoing legal situation off the pitch has been well documented.

It has coincided with a frustrating start to the season on the pitch for Johnson – yesterday’s appearance was only his third Premier League start.

The wideman started the campaign at Leicester City on the opening day but was then ruled out for more than a month after suffering a dislocated shoulder.

He returned to the squad for the trip to Bournemouth and then started against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup and Manchester United in the league, his last start.

Allardyce threw him in from the beginning against Newcastle though, perhaps with one eye on his previous derby day performances.

Johnson’s penalty yesterday was his FOURTH goal in six games against the Magpies.

An impressive record, no wonder they call him the Magpie Slayer.

He came within inches of adding a fifth derby goal to his record too after smashing a fine effort from distance off the crossbar in the second half. Newcastle’s Rob Elliot was well beaten.

It was far from comfortable, but a morale-boosting 3-0 win nonetheless.

And Allardyce will be desperately hoping his side can use it as a platform to build as they battle against relegation.

The three points lifted them to the dizzy heights of 18th, level on points but above Newcastle.

If Sunderland are to steer themselves away from trouble then Allardyce knows Johnson will be a key player.

His form has been inconsistent for the Black Cats – the derby matches aside – and they need him firing on all cylinders.

Having watched Sunderland score three plus goals in a top-flight game for the first time since November 2014, Allardyce needs this to be the beginning of a brighter future.