Newcastle avoided another dose of derby despair as Shola Ameobi's penalty rescued a 1-1 draw against local rivals Sunderland. Joe Kinnear's side trailed to Djibril Cisse's first half strike at St James' Park, but Ameobi lashed home a spot-kick deep into the second period to ensure Sunderland were denied a first league double over Newcastle for 42 years.
The result did little for either team's hopes of pulling clear of the relegation battle. Newcastle are only a point above the drop zone, while Sunderland are just three points better off. Cisse scuffed a long-range effort well wide with seven minutes gone as the visitors started brightly. Sunderland midfielder Kieran Richardson was also off target three minutes later with a raking drive.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley was in the directors' box to watch his side for the first time since August, but his presence barely raised a murmur from the home fans who have protested against his presence for much of the season. Ashley looked on as Newcastle created their first opening when Ameobi, back after five matches out with a knee injury, forced Marton Fulop into his first save with a shot on the turn after Andy Carroll had headed down Nicky Butt's free-kick.
The Black Cats almost went ahead with 20 minutes gone when Richardson's free-kick evaded everyone and hit the post, with debutant Kevin Nolan clearing Kenwyne Jones's follow-up off the line. Carroll went closer when he hit the top of the crossbar with a looping header from Jose Enrique's cross.
The Magpies wasted a golden chance to take the lead midway through the half when Steven Taylor played a one-two with Duff and surged forward before pulling the ball back for Ameobi. The striker had a clear sight of goal, but ballooned his first-time shot high over the bar.
Cisse can be an infuriating player, but this was one of his more focused days. He was causing the Newcastle defence all manner of problems with his pace and grabbed the opening goal in the 32nd minute. Dean Whitehead's through-ball sent Cisse sprinting clear of the Newcastle offside trap and, though Harper saved his first shot, the rebound fell kindly for the former Liverpool striker to poke into the empty net.
Newcastle emerged with renewed determination after half-time and George McCartney had to head over his own crossbar from Ameobi's header. Sunderland were creaking under Newcastle's pressure and they suffered a significant blow when Cisse was forced off with an injury.
After hammering away at the Sunderland defence, the hosts finally got their reward in the 69th minute. Taylor made a powerful burst into the penalty area and when he tumbled under Steed Malbranque's challenge, referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot. Ameobi blasted the penalty high to Fulop's left as the goalkeeper went the wrong way.
Sunderland could have restored their lead with 17 minutes remaining, but Harper got down well to deny Andy Reid. Newcastle pushed for a winner and Fulop had to beat away Taylor's 78th-minute header from a Duff corner before Nolan and Ameobi both went close. The last word should have been Sunderland's, but Michael Chopra failed to pick out Jones after a quick break by the visitors got through the home defence.