A couple of hours before kick-off, two Sunderland fans driving to the game crashed into each other, a few miles from the ground.
As the pair, wearing identical red and white replica shirts, leant across a bashed-in bonnet to swap insurance details, an eagerly anticipated day was clearly turning sour. A momentary loss of concentration had precipitated a soft, eminently avoidable collision and a whole load of hassle and expense beckoned.
By early Saturday afternoon, Steve Bruce felt similarly wretched. If he woke with any sense of optimism and excitement, such emotions had long been extinguished as, secured by Ryan Taylor's winning free-kick, Newcastle United's streetwise victory had home fans questioning the Sunderland manager's suitability for the job.
"We know what's ahead," said a man who is under close scrutiny as he embarks on a third season in charge at the Stadium of Light, still waiting for a first win over Newcastle. "We played well in the first half but it's going to be difficult because in many people's eyes losing this game is unforgivable," added Bruce. "We have to be ready for the flak that's going to come our way."
Anxious to avoid a repeat of an extremely disappointing second half of last season, Ellis Short has permitted Bruce to invest £30m on 10 players this summer. In return, Sunderland's owner expects a challenge for a European place.
While it seems ridiculous to pass judgment on a still-gelling team before August is out, Bruce knows he could do with winning both Tuesday's Carling Cup tie at Brighton and Saturday's Premier League fixture at Swansea City. After those two matches, a home game against Chelsea beckons.
Starting at a high tempo, Sunderland dominated an opening period in which Stéphane Sessègnon's finishing could not quite match the quality of his approach play. Even so, they should have conceded a penalty and had Sebastian Larsson sent off when the Swede stretched out an arm to repel Joey Barton's goalbound header. Otherwise quiet, Barton was well behaved, if not at his best in a new central midfield role.
At the interval the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, made a couple of subtle adjustments to his starting 4-2-3-1 formation. By asking the promising Yohan Cabaye to drop deeper he brought the best out of the previously ineffective Cheik Tioté and the initially inhibited Jonás Gutiérrez, while unleashing Gabriel Obertan's pace on a defence in which Shola Ameobi had already ruffled Wes Brown.
Suddenly Newcastle, for whom the excellent Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor shone in central defence, looked crisp, composed and cohesive. With Sunderland appearing increasingly one-paced, Ryan Taylor's winner was deserved, although Simon Mignolet's positioning might have been better.
After an early nutmegging by Ahmed Elmohamady, the scorer coped well out of position at left back, eventually thoroughly subduing the Egypt winger Bruce had ordered his team to play through.
With their performance, Pardew's side gently mocked those who predict they face a relegation struggle. "We're very good at beating ourselves up at Newcastle United and, yes, you wonder if the spirit will still be there," said Pardew, who has lost Kevin Nolan and José Enrique this summer and is still desperate to sign a new left-back and striker. "But it's still strong and serving us well."
Steven Taylor did not demur. "There's a lot of spirit here," he said. "We're a small squad but we stick together. We're very close. In the past, that hasn't always been the case."
Out on the pitch, Sunderland ended up all over the place as Pardew reacted to Bruce's ultimate deployment of four strikers by switching to a back five and Phil Bardsley, already booked, was dismissed for a dangerous two-footed tackle on Coloccini.
"We need to respond well," said Bruce. "We have to win our fans over."
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