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Published: 15:36 | 20/3/16

Mitrovic earns derby point for Toon

Meanwhile, Saints sicken Liverpool

Aleksandar Mitrovic's late header secured Newcastle United a 1-1 home draw against rivals Sunderland, while Southampton beat Liverpool 3-2 in a thriller.

In a crucial Premier League relegation battle at St James’ Park, Jermain Defoe volleyed Sunderland ahead close to the end of an opening half that had been littered with goal-scoring opportunities for both sides.

Yann M'Vila cleared a close-range Ayoze Perez attempt off the visitors’ goal-line, commencing a second period of almost total Newcastle dominance.

Mitrovic’s fine header, marking the Magpies' first goal under the guidance of Rafael Benitez, levelled the clash seven minutes from the end of normal time.

Both North East giants remain in the drop zone, with Newcastle second from bottom, a position and a point behind Sunderland.

Norwich City sit just outside of the relegation spots, two points better off than Sunderland but having played a game more than both the Black Cats and Benitez’s men.

The derby had opened at a frantic pace, as Jack Rodwell’s header was kept out by the hosts’ Rob Elliot, while Newcastle’s Mitrovic fired over, Moussa Sissoko failed to convert a far-post opportunity and Andros Townsend’s strike was saved by Vito Mannone.

Defoe was particularly threatening for the visitors, shooting too high on the turn and driving a low Rodwell centre narrowly wide, before being inches away from connecting with Wahbi Khazri’s ball across goal.

Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey and the Black Cats’ Khazri struck respective free-kicks off target towards the end of the opening period.

It was the visitors who would lead at the break, as Newcastle were unable to clear the danger when Elliot stopped a stinging Fabio Borini drive, allowing Defoe to volley home left-footed through a host of bodies.

After M'Vila denied Perez, Mitrovic and Sissoko also threatened the Sunderland target as Newcastle placed their opponents under near-constant pressure in the second half, although Elliot had to make a superb save to prevent Patrick van Aanholt from doubling the away side’s lead.

The hosts continued to press forward, eventually equalising when Mitrovic climbed above DeAndre Yedlin at the far post to head Georginio Wijnaldum’s delivery across Mannone and substitute John O’Shea.

Newcastle looked more likely than their opponents to win the derby in the closing exchanges but were unable to fashion a decent opportunity to do so.

On the south coast, Southampton came from two goals down to beat Liverpool 3-2.

The Saints bossed the early minutes before Philippe Coutinho cut inside and curled home a 25-yard effort to give Liverpool the lead.

With the hosts chasing a swift reply, the Reds struck on the break to double their advantage, as Daniel Sturridge took Divock Origi’s pass, unbalanced Ryan Bertrand and buried a fine finish.

Joe Allen had a goal disallowed for Mamadou Sakho being offside, prior to the home side finishing the opening half in a determined fashion.

A foul by Martin Skrtel on Graziano Pelle gave Sadio Mane the chance to reduce the hosts' deficit from the penalty spot, but Simon Mignolet saved the half-time substitute's attempt.

Mane, however, made amends by turning Sakho and finishing powerfully after being fed by Pelle.

The Reds created several unconverted chances in the aftermath of Mane’s goal, and the visitors’ profligacy was severely punished with seven minutes remaining, as Pelle got the better of Martin Skrtel and Sakho to strike superbly from the edge of the box.

Mane benefitted from a poor attempted clearance from Mignolet to drive home an excellent finish and leave the visitors trailing.

The Saints resisted late Liverpool pressure to record a victory that returns them to seventh place in the Premier League, three points ahead of Jurgen Klopp's side.

By David Maher

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