With Sunderland and Newcastle sat 18th and 19th respectively in the league table before kick-off, the Tyne-Wear derby was a massive relegation six-pointer and the 1-1 draw was a huge disappointment for both teams.
Norwich’s 0-1 away win at West Brom the day before put pressure on the north-east rivals and the stalemate ensured both remain in the relegation zone going into the international break. There were positives for both sides however, and at the bottom of the table, stringing a couple of wins together can shoot you up the table fast… unless you are Aston Villa.
The first half was as frantic as to be expected as the old enemies exchanged half chances before Jermain Defoe hit the side-netting. At the other end Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick landed inches wide of the post.
Shortly before half-time Fabio Borini connected excellently with a short corner and Rob Elliot in the Newcastle goal could only parry the ball back into his own area. The ball eventually fell to Defoe who executed his volley into the bottom corner with cool precision.
The second half was equally end-to-end and when Mitrovic met Wijnaldum’s cross for the equaliser with minutes to spare, it made for a fair result.
Rafa Benitez is winless after his first two games but the Magpies look a much better prospect under his command already. They have looked more resilient and organised despite a few individual errors. Townsend and Mitrovic combined well on several occasions at the weekend and there were signs they could form a fruitful partnership for the run-in.
Personally, though, I think Newcastle will struggle to stay up and the reason is Jermain Defoe. His goal at the weekend was his 12th in the league this season, which is one more than Diego Costa at Chelsea and level with Olivier Giroud, who has the likes of Mesut Ozil laying balls on a plate for him. The only Englishmen to have scored more in the top flight this season are Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane.
Now that Welbeck and Sturridge are fit and scoring again, I expect Roy Hodgson will take them to France this summer. The England boss has a preference for youth and Defoe hasn’t featured internationally since 2013, but I’d have Defoe in my squad for the Euros. Scoring a dozen or more goals in a relegation embattled season is an amazing feat, especially when you consider that he hasn’t always been Sam Alladyce’s first choice striker this season, something I find astounding given his ability.
When you compare him to the top scorers of the other relegation threatened teams it speaks volumes. The top scorers for Aston Villa, Norwich and Crystal Palace – who still need a couple of wins to guarantee survival, are all on five. Wijnaldum has nine goals for Newcastle, which is impressive from midfield but in a survival battle there is nothing more valuable than a proven goalscorer, and Jermain Defoe is one of the best in the business.