Shola Ameobi

Mick Lowes has long been the voice of the Magpies on BBC Radio Newcastle, and every fortnight he writes an exclusive blog for nufc.co.uk. Here he reflects on Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland and the contribution played by Shola Ameobi...

Sunday's derby had almost everything, and it was the best that I can remember for a while. Perhaps the lack of goals suggests it wasn't quite as good as the 3-2 win of 2005 or the 4-1 win later that same season, but in terms of having incidents and drama it was as good as we've had for a long, long time.

It was certainly feisty - I wouldn't say ill-natured or bad-tempered, but it was feisty. You expect a level of commitment in a fixture like this and maybe one or two challenges were a little bit over the top, but I think in a fixture like this you expect that passion from both sides and we got it.

In many ways, it was the proverbial game of two halves. Sunderland were undoubtedly the better side in the first half for whatever reason, but the way that Newcastle dominated the second half means if there was one of the two teams who could genuinely say they were disappointed not to win the game, it would be Newcastle just because of the possession they had, the corner count, the pressure they had and the fact that they missed a penalty.

The Magpies had the more genuine case for saying they were disappointed not to win the game - but having said all that, when you equalise a minute-and-a-half into stoppage time having missed a penalty eight minutes from time against a side down to ten men (and by that time most were already convincing themselves that it was going to be one of those days where a goal just wasn't going to materialise) you definitely take an equaliser, you take the fact that you haven't lost the game and you take the fact that your good record against your local rivals has continued.

A draw was the very least they deserved from the game, but by the time Shola Ameobi scored I think every United fan in the ground would have taken anything at the stage.

I spoke to Shola afterwards and he's just a top, top fella. As I said on the radio on Monday morning, he has his critics, there are those who he frustrates, but he's just a good lad and somebody who every football club needs.

He's a local lad who wears his heart on his sleeve, and you need somebody to remind the rest of the group - particularly when you've got as many foreign players as Newcastle have at the moment - what it's all about and what the derby means to the local community. And you couldn't have a better ambassador for the Geordie nation than Shola Ameobi.

He's a great character, a strong character, and he's level-headed. He won a penalty which I still maintain he should have taken, and I think he knows it too in his heart of hearts. But that's Shola for you - he's too nice a guy. He saw Demba Ba with the ball in his hands and thought 'okay, I'll let Demba take it' - but he is the designated penalty-taker and he should have taken it.

I'm sure he was frustrated that he didn't take the spot-kick that Ba ultimately missed, but he didn't let that get to him and on an afternoon where all around were losing theirs, he kept his head and there he was 90 seconds into stoppage time.

It might not have been the slickest finish or the easiest of goals on the eye, but it was so important that he managed to steer that ball into a pretty small gap between Simon Mignolet and the post and get the goal that we needed.

And if only for the seven goals he's scored in Tyne-Wear derbies, they should erect a statue of him somewhere in the town!

That draw kept Newcastle ten points clear in the table and I thought before the game that if the Wearsiders had any real aspirations of catching United then they would have had to have won the game on Sunday. I think the gap is too great now with the number of games left to play.

But I do think if you put to one side the whole derby scenario and the entire furore going into it, to pick up only two points from a possible six after home games against Wolves and Sunderland is slightly disappointing. Liverpool had not been in league action on the previous weekend and were beaten the day before the derby, so there was an opportunity there to really steal a march on the Reds in terms of a top six place.

It just puts a little bit more onus on getting results in the fixtures to come, starting at Arsenal which isn't going to be easy. They've been given a glimmer of hope of a Champions League place because of Chelsea and Liverpool's erratic form so that's going to be tough, and Norwich and West Bromwich Albion suddenly become key games as well.

To end on a positive note, Alan Pardew picked up the Sports Personality of the Year trophy at the Sport Newcastle awards on Monday. The BBC sponsor one of the awards at that prestigious ceremony and it's more recognition for the fantastic job that the Magpies manager has done since he arrived on Tyneside.

Newcastle United fans across the board - many of whom doubted his appointment - now appreciate that he has done an amazing job. If they do ultimately get European football at the end of this season (and it is still a big ask) it would be a massive feather in his cap and a huge reward for the work that he and his backroom staff have put in this season.

It's been nothing short of a revelation and I hope he continues to receive many more accolades in the future.