Milner saves the day for Newcastle
Lee Ryder reports from the Stadium of Light
Newcastle United fans had to be content with a 1-1 draw on Wearside today as James Milner secured a point in an emotionally charged derby at the Stadium of Light.
United had gone behind to Danny Higginbotham in the second half but Milner's goal saved the day for Big Sam and Co as streets emptied on both Tyneside and Wearside alike to take in the first Tyne-Wear clash of the season.
Newcastle were forced to make a change in the engine room with Nicky Butt suspended meaning the midfield lined up with Milner wide on the left, Joey Barton and Emre in the middle but Alan Smith began the game as a man marker on goal threat Kenwyne Jones.
In defence Steven Taylor retained his place at right-back but Cacapa missed out so David Rozehnal partnered Adboulaye Faye in the centre and Charles N'Zogbia took the place of Jose Enrique at left-back.
Up front it was Mark Viduka, back from a calf problem, and Michael Owen while Steve Harper kept his place between the posts with Shay Given out with groin problems.
United had not lost a derby on Wearside since 1980 while Sunderland's last taste of derby victory came in 2000 at St James's Park.
Mike Ashley made his way to the Stadium of Light on the buses with Toon fans and took his place in the stands amidst a backdrop of black and white - complete with his Newcastle shirt of course.
Meanwhile it was Owen who captained United for the first time with Geremi benched and Butt banned.
In a cauldron of noise both sides kicked off on a greasy surface after a pre-match downpour.
And it took just a couple of minutes for Harper to be called into action with the keeper having to challenge with Carlos Edwards on the right hand side of the penalty area but the Toon stopper came out on top.
United's first glimpse of goal came when Viduka fired in an overhead effort but it was high and wide leaving Craig Gordon untroubled.
Yet Geordie hearts were in mouths when Edwards pumped in right wing cross but Ross Wallace fired over at the back post in a missed opportunity for the home side.
With 23 minutes on the clock ex-Toon striker Michael Chopra became the first player to be booked when he hacked down N'Zogbia who had made a great run down the left.
And Sunderland were dealt another blow when Nyron Nosworthy was forced off with a hamstring problem.
Newcastle though came close on 28 minutes when Milner fed N'Zogbia across the six yard box from the left and Owen's snatched at attempt left Gordon holding on with dear life.
Four minutes later Newcastle had Smith to thank after a Sunderland attack resulted in Grant Leadbitter's shot being bravely blocked by the former Leeds man with Harper beaten.
Sunderland hit straight back and Wallace's cross was then headed over from six yards from Leadbitter again.
With 10 minutes to go before the break Faye collided with Jones to earn a free-kick and a yellow card but the Black Cats wasted the chance.
Two minutes before the break Sunderland had a real chance when Chopra was set free on the edge of the box but his shot on the turn was wonderfully parried by Harper to keep the scores level.
But tempers flared as the half reached an end when Barton escaped punishment for a high challenge on Etuhu with the Sunderland man then confronting the Scouser as the two teams headed for the tunnel for the interval.
Just seven minutes had elapsed when Sunderland opened the scores after a quickly taken short corner which caught out Newcastle.
Leadbitter crossed from the left and an unmarked Danny Higginbotham headed home at the back post to send the Wearside crowd into raptures.
It was a goal that should never have happened from United's point of view after losing possession before then letting three unmarked players conjure up the goal.
Before the hour mark Newcastle had a decent claim for a penalty but after Ian Harte had tripped Milner ref Atkinson didn't want to know.
And as we reached the 60 minute mark Taylor's right wing cross was headed well over by Owen in a rare chance for the England man.
Yet six minutes later there was relief for the Geordies as Emre and Milner exchanged passes in the left channel and the Yorkshireman's cross cum shot ended up sneaking in at the far post to level the scores.
Milner's right footed effort certainly looked like a cross from the TV replays but there weren't too many Geordies complaining as the away end exploded with Ashley's smile as wide as the Tyne Bridge.
United went down to 10 men for three minutes after Higginbotham's arm caught Viduka with the Aussie patched up and sent back into play.
With nine minutes left though Sunderland almost grabbed the lead when Harte's dangerous corner found Chopra who watched his header rattle the bar before Newcastle frantically cleared through Taylor.
Big Sam then threw on Martins with seven minutes to play with Owen retiring early and handing the armband to Smith.
SUNDERLAND: Gordon, Harte, Ethuhu, Nosworthy (Collins 23), McShane, Edwards, Higginbotham, Chopra, Jones, Leadbitter, Wallace (Stokes 73).
Subs: Miller, Ward, Connolly.
UNITED: Harper, Taylor, N'Zobgia, Rozehnal, Faye (Beye 61), Milner, Barton, Emre (Geremi 88), Smith, Viduka, Owen (Martins 83).
Subs: Forster, Enrique
Ref: Martin Atkinson (West Yorks)