ALAN Pardew has praised Newcastle United goalkeeper Jak Alnwick for his performance in the biggest game yet of his career.
Alnwick made only his third start for the Magpies in Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
Sunderland won the game 1-0 to make it four derby defeats in a row for Newcastle.
Alnwick – who had picked the ball out of his net eight times in his previous two appearances – could do nothing to stop Adam Johnson’s 90th-minute winner.
And Pardew, without injured goalkeepers Tim Krul and Rob Elliot, felt Alnwick acquitted himself well on a difficult afternoon at St James’s Park.
Alnwick successfully came for a series of free-kicks and balls into the box from Gus Poyet’s side.
“We were disappointed with how many free-kicks we gave away, because we knew they were going to put it on Jak,” said Pardew.
“If there’s one player comes out of this with a huge amount of credit, it’s our goalie. He had to deal with a lot of high balls into him and he was excellent.”
Pardew also felt the referee, Manchester-based official Anthony Taylor, kept control of the game, which saw four players from each side booked.
“There were some situations where, typical of a derby, you can over-react, or whatever,” said Pardew. “He handled himself well.”
Pardew and his players – who were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Tottenham Hotspur last week and beaten 4-1 by Arsenal – must now pick themselves up for their Boxing Day visit to Manchester United.
“It’s tough for us, a tough run of games and we knew that,” said Pardew, whose side is ninth.
“This was a critical fixture and a critical result, really. We needed to win this to stay at the top (end) of the league, and that has been taken away from us.
“Now we have got some really hard work to do.
“We’re going to have to get a win against Man United, or a result of some description, to keep us in and around that area, and that’s now the agenda.
“We’ve had a tough week. It was difficult at Spurs, and (on Sunday) we had a result that perhaps we didn’t deserve.
“But we’ve got two defeats to our name and we’ve got to turn that around.”
– MILES STARFORTH