Tired Toon stunned by Sunderland
"If you are a good manager, like I am, you can change." Paolo Di Canio said last week, before quickly describing himself as "a very good manager". Tasked with addressing a 13-year run of away derby form that had long hung on the back of Sunderland, he did more than just restore pride to his own fans: he embarrassed their greatest rivals.
Outfighting and outplaying Newcastle, for the second game in a row his side took the lead, and for the second game in a row they completely deserved it.
Now operating with the vim and vigour that had drifted away in the final weeks of Martin O'Neill's tenure, it far outstripped the desire of the visibly shocked Newcastle players. Pardew had joked mid-week that he was unsure if his French players grasped the importance of this game; their performance on Sunday suggested there may have been some truth to his comments.
Lifeless and treating the clash is if it were just another one of the 38 on their calendar, it is the lack of fight that will depress Newcastle fans the most. The on-field lethargy spread quickly to the terraces, as the hope Pardew had previously referenced was replaced with an expectation that the players would at least battle against their sworn enemy.
Strike partners Danny Graham and Stephane Sessegnon gave Newcastle's back four all kinds of trouble as they constantly dragged them deep into the channels.
Evoking memories of Kevin Philips and Niall Quinn, the last Sunderland pairing to best Newcastle at home, it was Sessegnon who fired them into the lead. A mercurial type, the playmaker was desperate to cast himself as the hero after being sent off in this fixture last year and he duly succeeded. Floating around the field, his ability to draw cheap free-kicks not only gave Sunderland their best chances but also relieved any potential pressure.
As has been the case in recent weeks at St James' Park, it took an away goal to spark the home side into any kind of action. Minutes after falling behind, Papiss Cisse wriggled past Phil Bardsley only for Simon Mignolet to block the shot.
Marshaled by the experience of John O'Shea, Newcastle were missing that same influence, which is usually provided by Fabricio Coloccini. Absent players served as no mitigation, however, given Sunderland were themselves without a trio of first-teamers. Cobbled together, their desire was clear to see, and on a day when they needed a bit of luck they received it thanks to a linesman.
Offside is a word that is haunting Cisse - flagged against Benfica on Thursday night – at the moment, and this time his protestations were valid. As he snuck to the back post to lift it into the roof of the net, the assistant's flag halted any further celebrations.
It was a one of a number of mistakes that both sets of fans will disagree over well into next week. With Howard Webb keen to use his yellow card as a last resort only, naughty tackles by Danny Rose and Yoan Gouffran could easily have seen them earn a dismissal, the absence of a red card a welcome surprise.
Short on ideas, and having also lost Tim Krul to a dislocated shoulder, Hatem Ben Arfa was identified as the man to rectify the situation. Somewhat thicker in frame than the last time he played against Sunderland, even his usually exceptional touch had departed him as he stumbled over the ball.
Meanwhile, Di Canio, the self-appointed "Unique One", was milking every moment of a day that will live with him until the day he leaves this Earth.
Each goal was celebrated with a sprint down the touchline; his decision to knee-slide not only ruined his trousers but also seemed reminiscent of the "Special One".
Yet he refused to be pleased. Even at 3-0, following a whistler from David Vaughan, the bulldog in a tie barracked his players for each mistake. It's a kind of intensity they have lacked for the majority of the season and is having most benefit to Adam Johnson.
While the winger displayed his talent in the final third, it is the constant instruction and encouragement from Di Canio - embodied by the pair's pre-match touchline talk - that now sees him give at least something in defence and at most the kind of quality that doubled their lead.
"We want four, we want four," the travelling support demanded, but the eventual 3-0 result was more than adequate for fans who've not seen this kind of performance since mid-way through the last century. February 1979 was the last time a three-goal winning margin was achieved against Newcastle.
Significantly calmer after the game, Di Canio was wise to note how little this game will mean if the club are not a Premier League side come May. Spending his own special moment with the fans after full time, he once again urged focus to remain on the players - a difficult task given how often he seemed to take centre stage at St James' Park.
Meanwhile, there was desolation in the other corner. "It's up there," Alan Pardew said, place the defeat among his worst moments as Newcastle manager. Choosing to focus on the five games that remain, even victories in those will do little to erase a massive day in the history of his team's biggest rivals.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Stepahane Sessegnon. Already adored on Wearside, his destruction of Newcastle will guarantee he is welcome in the town for life. Easily the club's biggest threat, it is vital they convince him to remain at the club or begin looking for someone who offers the same impressive characteristics. Expect Di Canio to build what remains of this season around the exciting little playmaker in the same way O'Neill did.
SUNDERLAND VERDICT: A day for celebration on Wearside. Their first victory on Tyneside for over a decade was emphatic and steeped in effort and determination to work for the manager. Di Canio's biggest test remains maintaining such a high level for long periods. The sharp turnaround indicates a worrying mental fragility amongst the squad and one that he will need to constantly manage. Clearly a man who trades on passion, his tactical nous should not be ignored. Hampered by a threadbare squad, his handling of the transfer market this summer will likely dictate Sunderland's ambitions next season.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: It's all about the summer. Alan Pardew may curse his luck after losing Tim Krul but his claims of fatigue are no excuse for an atrocious performance. The midweek battle against Benfica will of course have taken something out of his side but they also lack the genuine penetration from out wide that is needed facilitate the style of play Pardew is so keen to implement. Unable to rely on Hatem Ben Arfa, securing their targets early and then forging a solid understanding is the biggest requirement.