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Northern Exposure: Who will finish as top dogs in the North East?
Published : 20 May 2011 09:44:59
ShareFor once a quiet final day of the season awaits the North East's two Premier League clubs. So there will be no nail-biting finish, no baiting via text or songs, no sleepless night on Saturday as the shadow of the Championship looms. Newcastle and Sunderland are safe and their managers, owners and directors have already started planning for next season in the top flight. This was exactly the scenario Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn dreamed of. As a man who suffered his fair share of final day heartache as player and administrator, Quinn wanted to be able to go into the last weekend knowing his club would be above any of that relegation nonsense. Safe and sound: Sunderland cannot be relegated It's just a bit of a shame his wish has extended to both North East clubs playing dead-rubbers this weekend with Sunderland joining the wake at West Ham and Newcastle facing a mid-table battle at home to West Brom. There is however one big issue to be resolved for the two clubs, which really will not interest anyone outside the region. The title of North East top dogs is up for grabs, a small prize compared to some on offer, and certainly not one that includes any silverware or a place in Europe. It just matters quite a lot if you're a Geordie or a Mackem. With an additional Premier League season under their belts, and financial backing from Ellis Short which has allowed the last two managers to spend nearly ?100 million, Sunderland should be out of sight for this parochial mini-competition. In the driving seat: Newcastle are one point ahead of Sunderland It makes Newcastle's one-point lead going into Sunday all the more remarkable. Newcastle started the season with the priority of staying in the Premier League after a season out of it and they have had more stringent financial restrictions tying their hands, and went through a potentially turbulent change of manager. At the turn of the year, despite their Halloween horror show at St James's Park, Sunderland looked like a team who had invested well and started to build on the foundations built by Quinn alongside Roy Keane and Steve Bruce. And with Danny Welbeck, Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent to choose from, Bruce appeared to have one of the most potent strikeforces in the country to choose from. He will travel to Upton Park with no strikers. At the root of Sunderland's dismal demise since January, is the sale of Bent. Catalyst: Sunderland plummeted down the table after Darren Bent's departure Contentious and shocking at the time, although terrific value for Sunderland, they have not been able to cope without the England striker and his goals. The injury crisis which has tied Bruce's hands and leaves him with an entire first team missing at the weekend would destroy the aspirations of any side. The Sunderland manager has not been able to pick his first choice team for five months and it is incredible - but says a great deal about the teams above - that they could have gone eighth again if they had defeated Wolves last week. Some of the problems Sunderland have experienced since New Year are self-inflicted. They could have tried harder to keep a valuable player who clearly wanted to leave. They could have tried harder to replace him properly. The Sessegnon/Muntari gamble didn't really work. With loan signings to replace, and Bent's place in the squad still vacant, Bruce, Quinn and Short are pretty close to starting with a blank piece of paper. Again. Happy return: Newcastle have had a successful first season back in the Premier League More from Colin Young... Northern Exposure: Good news is Roy is Keane to come back into football11/05/11 Northern Exposure: Positive signs for Boro despite a disappointing season29/04/11 Northern Exposure: Work has already begun for next season at Newcastle19/04/11 Northern Exposure: Sunderland are in a struggle but must keep Bruce12/04/11 Colin Young: Sunderland thought their season was over but is this the start?06/04/11 Northern Exposure: Forget finances... Newcastle must simply avoid the drop31/03/11 Northern Exposure: Pardew problems are small fry compared with Sir Bobby's22/03/11 Northern Exposure: Forget Welbeck... Sunderland fans will be keen to greet Carroll16/03/11 VIEW FULL ARCHIVEThere is growing discontent on Wearside that Bruce has had his chance and, after two years, with the squad in danger of failing to land that coveted top ten place, he should hand over responsibility for the rebuilding programme to a new man. But such a policy makes absolutely no sense. Too much work has been done already. However, the Sunderland manager is under more pressure than ever to get every one of his signings correct. No more Muntari, Riveros, Da Silva, Angeleri. He also needs to get off to a very good start next season. Anything other than a bright beginning, an indication that they can follow up on the more positive aspects of this season, will see the discontent spread and put Bruce under increasing pressure from unhappy supporters. He certainly can't afford suffering at the hands of Newcastle again. When the popular Chris Hughton was sacked, Newcastle were already steadily building on last season's Championship triumph. Alan Pardew deserves enormous credit for the seamless takeover of Hughton's squad and maintaining a place in the right of the division. And of course all this has been done without Andy Carroll, who was injured for much of Pardew's reign before he was sold. Newcastle are frustratingly inconsistent, and St James' isn't quite the fortress is used to be yet. They are in danger of losing more key players already on the squad list, which could be just as critical as any new arrivals. Like Sunderland, Newcastle elected not to splash out in January, but that also increases the pressure on the directors to invest correctly during the summer. And like Mike Ashley, every Newcastle supporter will be counting every penny of that ?35 million investment. The fun and games and the speculation of the summer is just round the corner. Before that the small issue of the North East crown awaits. I'll spend wisely! Pardew vows he won't make same mistakes as previous Newcastle bosses Sunderland turn to freebies Larsson and Vaughan after Gameiro snubAll the latest Newcastle news, features and opinionAll the latest Sunderland news, features and opinion Explore more:People: Darren Bent, Mike Ashley, Chris Hughton, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll, Niall Quinn Places: Newcastle, United Kingdom, Europe