Taylor's taunts fail to spark Sunderland
At The Stadium of Light
Steven Taylor's provocative pre-match declaration that no Sunderland player would make Newcastle United's starting line-up should have been the spark to light a fire under Martin O'Neill's side.
This Tyne-Wear derby did not require any stoking of the flames for what is traditionally a spiteful affair - but Taylor was on hand with a few ill-chosen words just in case.
No manager has ever won a match armed with a set of press cuttings but O'Neill admitted several of his players passed comment on what, tongue in cheek or not, was a message that demonstrated disrespect for Newcastle's fiercest rivals.
Sunderland's problem in a predictably feverish affair was that too many of their players spent too long assembling a compelling body evidence to support Taylor's case rather than throwing the words back in his face.
Newcastle boss Pardew was the happier of the two managers at the Stadium of Light. Picture: Empics
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew marched towards the visiting fans at the final whistle pumping his fist in pleasure at a hard-earned point. Inside, however, he will have been disappointed a team that ended with 10 men after Cheick Tiote's red card did not secure all three.
Yohan Cabaye's early goal was protected in relative comfort by Newcastle's reduced numbers until Demba Ba's scrappy 86th minute own goal gave Sunderland a point that was the result of frantic, unconvincing pressure, rather than any structured approach.
Indeed, for long spells Sunderland were nothing short of clueless in their attempts to break down a measured Newcastle magnificently marshalled by Fabricio Coloccini.
It was only when he succumbed to cramp and was replaced by arch-villain Taylor that Newcastle's resolve even threatened to break and at least give Sunderland the consolation of a point.
Taylor's very presence, even as a substitute, provided a poisonous sub-plot at the Stadium of Light after his outburst, which included the insistence that he "would rather go and collect stamps than wear their [Sunderland's] shirt".
It was more a case of philately than flattery, and meant this game began in a frenzy that suggested the traditional pre-match music of Prokoviev's "Dance Of The Knights" could have reasonably been replaced with some headbanging Motorhead to match the mood.
Of course it was a needless, unwise insult and resulted in Taylor being abused from the moment he came out to warm up, throughout the game, and during his brief appearance as a substitute.
There was vicious chanting from Sunderland's fans but Newcastle's supporters were not spotless either, singing tasteless songs about Sunderland's absent midfield man Lee Cattermole.
Taylor would hardly turn his nose up at the idea of players like Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson as team-mates but on this day Newcastle and Sunderland produced performances to back his claims.
This was a chastening afternoon for Sunderland. Perhaps it was a case of catching them on a bad day but they were tactically bankrupt for the most part and when cool heads were needed following referee Martin Atkinson's decision to send Tiote off for a high tackle on Fletcher, they had left their composure in the cloakroom.
Fletcher barely received any service worthy of the name while Johnson's contribution, which was non-existent in the second half, can be measured by his removal after 83 minutes with Sunderland still chasing an equaliser. When he did have possession early on he was often surrounded by three Newcastle players and was reduced to wallowing in a sea of frustration long before the end.
If there was any comfort for Sunderland it was in their industry, base camp for any O'Neill team. In a frenetic conclusion a regular stream of crosses and set pieces finally bore fruit but there was nothing by way of subtlety and the manager will need more than beads of perspiration over a long season.
It may come as and when (or if) Sunderland's creative players such as Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon rediscover their spark, as there is no doubt much better than Sunday's performance will be required and The Black Cats have been off colour for a while now.
In contrast Newcastle, especially with a full complement, looked very much like the side that finished fifth last season. Pardew felt they were back on song and until Tiote disappeared down the tunnel they looked a much smoother operation, particularly in possession, than Sunderland.
Coloccini may not quite have been a vision of the late, great Sir Bobby Moore as Pardew excitedly announced but the Argentine was more or less faultless until his legs tired.
Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa provide the light and shade while Ba is a threat, with Papiss Cisse on the bench as attacking insurance.
On this viewing Newcastle look in ruder health than Sunderland. Pardew looks like he has plenty of his team's parts in good working order while Sunderland looked scrappy and a work O'Neill will need to progress further. In the manager's defence he is only 10 months into his tenure and still has many challenges to meet.
Pardew declared his side "a class act" when all 11 players were present while O'Neill appeared grateful for a point, although he was happy to accept an invitation to respond to Taylor, quipping: "I'm delighted he made their bench."
Other than that flash of humour, Pardew was the manager with most to smile about.