In the 1900-01 season, Sunderland fell two points clear of champions Liverpool, eventually finishing second.
It was a one place improvement from 1899-00, but they had still not reached the heights of a decade earlier when they topped the division and won three league titles in their first five seasons as a Football League club, under the management of the legendary Tom Watson.
Alex Mackie had succeeded Bob Campbell in 1899, and as the new season began in September 1901, the Sunderland manager was looking to do better this time around and bring the club their first Roker Park-era trophy.
The opening matches had been relatively successful, with home wins over Sheffield United and Manchester City, an away loss to Wolves and a draw against Liverpool.
Newcastle were relatively new to Division 1, having been promoted from the second tier in 1898 and rising steadily up the table ever since.
However, in a bizarre historical quirk, the home side had yet to claim victory in all six Tyne-Wear and Wear-Tyne derbies in the league, with Sunderland traveling to Tyneside on the last day of the previous season. and walking away with a 2-0 victory – a Good Friday game that was marked by the breaching of the Newcastle pitch gates by a ‘cheering crowd’.
As such, ‘the fiercest’ of rivalries was developing between the clubs, and it was a game that drew crowds to St James’ Park on a fine Saturday afternoon in early autumn.
The hosts were unbeaten heading into this game and had the incline at St James in their favor in the first half. Both sides played a hard and fast game, but Newcastle were without their club record goalscorer, Jock Peddie, and Sunderland took the lead in the 25th minute thanks to a high shot from Jimmy Gemmell.
It was the first of 43 goals the Scottish inside striker would score for the club during his two spells at Wearside. He had joined Sunderland from Clyde the previous year and spent over six seasons at the club, followed by spells at Stoke and Leeds before returning aged 30 for one more year in 1910-11.
Sunderland were playing good things, but Newcastle insisted on equalizing before half-time. The Lads held on, however, with Ned Doig making a series of superb saves to preserve our advantage.
In the second half, Newcastle failed to manage our aggressiveness and their attack lacked the dynamism we expected of them.
The home side were then reduced to ten men after defender Dave Gardiner had to leave the pitch for seven minutes with injury, and Sunderland were denied a goal by Bobby Hogg for a handball by Gemmell.
However, by all accounts, we saw the game end easily and the two points propelled us to second place in the table.
Sunderland never dropped below third place for the rest of the season and won the fourth of our six league titles within three points of Everton. Newcastle also had their best league season, finishing third, and they would become the dominant team in the second half of the Edwardian decade.