A DEMBA Ba own goal saw Sunderland claim a share of the derby spoils at the Stadium of Light this afternoon.
The Newcastle United striker diverted an effort from John O’Shea past Tim Krul late in a fiercely-contested Wear-Tyne derby to cancel out Yohan Cabaye’s early opener.
The game’s biggest talking point, however, was the dismissal of Cheik Tiote by referee Martin Atkinson for a late challenge in the first half.
It left Alan Pardew’s side to play most of the game with 10 men.
Pardew named fit-again Fabricio Coloccini and Krul, but Steven Taylor, also available again after recovering from injury, had to be content with a place on the bench.
Up front, derby talisman Shola Ameobi – who has netted seven goals in fixtures between the two sides – was handed a start ahead of Papiss Demba Cisse.
And Newcastle got off to the best possible start, with Cabaye opening the scoring in the third minute with a simple finish after Simon Mignolet could only parried an effort from Demba Ba into his path.
The goal quietened the home support, who had racously welcomed their team on to the field and mercilessly taunted Taylor, who had suggested no Sunderland player would get into Newcastle’s starting XI on the eve of the game.
United had the better of a high-tempo opening period, with Pardew’s side the more composed on the ball.
Cabaye forced a save out of Mignolet with a 30-yard free-kick in the 21st minute, and the game swung from end to end.
The half’s biggest talking came when Tiote was dismissed by Atkinson for a crude challenge on Fletcher. A fraction of a second before he clattered the striker, Atkinson had blown the whistle for a foul in his favour.
Newcastle’s players protested the decision, believing the tackle had deserved no more than a yellow card.
Tiote’s dismissal left United to play 65 minutes with 10 men, and Pardew withdrew Ba into a deeper role behind Ameobi in the absence of the combative midfielder, who will now miss the games against West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool and West Ham through suspension.
Sunderland, and their supporters, rallied in the wake of the sending off, and Craig Gardner whistled a free-kick just wide of Krul’s post in the 35th minute.
Pardew sent on James Perch for Ameobi in the 39th minute, and Newcastle got to the break with their slender lead still intact.
Neither manager made a change at the break, and Sunderland were frustrasted by a dogged and determined United as they attempted to make their extra man count early in the second half.
Newcastle were on the back foot for spells, but O’Neill’s side were struggling to turn their possession into clearcut chances.
O’Neill sent on Louis Saha – who had a loan spell at St James’s Park early in his career – in the 65th minute.
When Pardew’s side broke forward, they were outnumbered, and Ba cut an isolated figure up front on his own, with his team-mates forced to defend deeply, and in numbers.
Still, the equaliser wouldn’t come for Sunderland.
Pardew sent on Taylor in place of Coloccini – who looked to be suffering from cramp – in the 80th minute.
Saha shot wide from a corner before Adam Johnson was replaced by David Vaughan.
When the equaliser came, it was cruel on United, with Ba accidentally putting a John O’Shea header from a Sebastian Larsson corner past a helpless Krul.
Newcastle withstood a late onslaught from Sunderland to take a hard-earned point back to Tyneside.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet; Gardner, Cuellar, O’Shea, Rose; Johnson (Vaughan, 83), Colback, Larsson, McClean; Sessegnon (Saha, 65), Fletcher. Subs: Westwood, Bardsley, Campbell, Kilgallon, Meyler.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini (S Taylor 79), Santon; Ben Arfa (Obertan 83), Cabaye, Tiote, Gutierrez; Ba, Shola Ameobi (Perch 39). Subs: Harper, Anita, Cisse, Ferguson.
Goals: Cabaye 3, Ba 86 (og)
Bookings: Shola Ameobi 25, Coloccini 68, Williamson 84, Cabaye 86 Sent off: Tiote 25
Referee: Martin Atkinson (South Yorkshire)