Sunderland’s former star Stephane Sessegnon on the ecstasy of beating Newcastle United

Stephane Sessegnon.
Stephane Sessegnon.

Sitting alone in the away dressing room at St James’s Park, Stephane Sessegnon struggled to contain the tears of guilt after being handed an early bath.

With Sunderland boasting a precarious one-goal advantage thanks to Nicklas Bendtner’s penalty, Sessegnon left Martin O’Neill’s side facing an uphill battle to hang onto the lead after throwing an arm into the face of Cheik Tiote, who subsequently collapsed theatrically.

The atmosphere in that game is unbelievable... it’s just exceptional.

Stephane Sessegnon

That red card hurt the Sunderland forward.

In a season where he would romp to the Player of the Year title, Sessegnon’s dismissal hampered Sunderland’s chances of recording a first win on Tyneside since 2000 after Shola Ameobi grabbed a late leveller for Newcastle.

But the Benin international really does embody the agony and ecstasy which accompanies this game of games.

Twelve months later, Sessegnon netted Sunderland’s opener in the 3-0 win at St James’s, to begin the run of five successive victories over the Magpies.

Looking back on those two contrasting experiences, the current West Brom forward said: “Yes, I had some really good experiences against Newcastle, and also some bad ones.

“You’ve got to say that the best one was the 3-0 at Newcastle, where I scored and we all we played so well.

“That’s the one I like to remember!

“The game when I received a red card was obviously a difficult day, but I prefer the good side of the fixture.”

Heading into that April 2013 victory, Sunderland had endured a nine-game winless run in the Premier League, which saw Martin O’Neill pay with his job and Paolo Di Canio hired to give the squad a short, sharp shock.

Unlike his predecessors, Di Canio made no attempt to play down the significant of the encounter as ‘just another game’.

“It counts in terms of dignity, honour and pride for 2,000 games,” said Di Canio.

Sunderland’s players clearly rose to that rallying cry; Sessegnon opening the scoring midway through the first half when he drove towards the penalty area and beat Tim Krul at his near post.

Second half stunners from Adam Johnson and David Vaughan prompted Di Canio to ruin a perfectly good pair of trousers and secure a win which would be the catalyst towards Sunderland beating the drop.

“I remember getting to the edge of the area and just deciding to have a shot,” said Sessegnon.

“I was surprised that it went in the bottom corner, but it was a great feeling.

“Then Adam Johnson and David Vaughan scored two brilliant goals to give us a 3-0 win.

“That one was such a great victory for the whole club.

“At that time, the team wasn’t doing well in the league and really needed to win, and what’s more they hadn’t beaten Newcastle in a long time.

“So to win there, score three times, with the quality of those goals, was the positive we needed to stay up at the end of the season.”

Sessegnon left the Stadium of Light just four months later after falling foul of Di Canio’s rigid discipline.

But the 31-year-old – part of the West Brom side which beat Sunderland last weekend – retains his fondness for the Black Cats after his two-and-a-half year stint at the Stadium of Light.

He hopes Sunderland can make it a record six derby wins in-a-row on Sunday, in a game which he rates as one of the best in English football.

Sessegnon added: “The atmosphere in that game was unbelievable... it’s just exceptional.

“For the fans, for the players, it’s a great occasion if you’re playing in England.

“It’s good to see that Sunderland have had such a good record against Newcastle in the last few years.

“I’ve got so much respect for the club, everyone knows that.

“I wish Sam Allardyce and the team all the best on Sunday.”