The game did not take long to explode into life as Newcastle capitalised fully on a bright start, with Hatem Ben Arfa supplying Demba Ba to fire a fierce effort at Simon Mignolet in the 3rd minute. The Belgian could do nothing but palm it back into his own area, where the lurking Yohan Cabaye was alert to smash home.
The game was typically frantic and fast-paced, with both sides seeing plenty of the ball but neither enjoying any sustained spells of possession. That all changed midway through the half, when Tiote and Fletcher came together for a 50-50 challenge, the Ivorian needlessly going in high and over the ball high on Fletcher's leg, leaving the referee with no choice but to produce a red card.
Sunderland could not capitalise on their advantage, however, and only looked more disjointed as the half went on. Adam Johnson went the closest with a curling effort, before Newcastle were almost permitted to double their lead, Fabricio Coloccini's long-range effort being deflected to Demba Ba, who saw his acrobatic effort go over the bar.
After half-time, Sunderland still struggled to fashion any clear chances, with any progress inevitably met by the dominant figure of Coloccini, who was at times keeping the Black Cats at bay single-handedly. As the half wore on, eventually the Magpies' tiredness began to tell as they retreated ever-further into their own half, and yet Sunderland hardly looked closer to a goal.
And late on, in the 84th minute, it was a Newcastle player who broke the deadlock. Sebastian Larsson pumped a free-kick into the Newcastle area, and John O'Shea's header took a cruel deflection off Demba Ba as it landed in the Magpies' net. An own goal was fitting equaliser for Sunderland, who hardly looked like scoring themselves all game.
Newcastle will feel extremely hard-done by, having had to work tremendously hard to maintain their lead since Tiote's red card and only seeing it snatched away by a twist of fate. For Sunderland, it's a huge and fortunate reprieve from what would've been yet another derby defeat to add to their growing recent collection. The Black Cats have been far too reliant on Steven Fletcher for goals this season, and with James McClean, Stephane Sessegnon, and Adam Johnson in their side, there is no excuse for the lack of creativity that was on display this afternoon. Martin O'Neill has much work ahead if Sunderland are to finally live up to their perceived potential.