Get ready for another exciting North-East year

13 August 2010 11:13
A NEW season, a new start. Forget the highs of Sunderland victories over the Premier League's top four, the promotion celebrations at St James' Park in May or the pain of missing out on a play-off place on Teesside.

And the traumas of relegation struggles, won by Hartlepool and lost by Darlington, can be consigned to the history books. Once more, a fresh campaign is upon us and it is time for supporters across the region to enjoy the ride. Or at least try.

Approaching 30 new players have arrived to bolster the region's five main clubs this summer, bringing with them increased interest from supporters and changing expectations and hopes.

Top-flight football is heading back to Tyneside and, having had little money to spend on his squad, manager Chris Hughton has been one of the least inactive on the transfer front.

He might have tried to attract numerous highly-rated players throughout Europe, but Newcastle have found a number of clubs unwilling to lower their over-inflated fees for young talents, such as Paris St Germain's Mevlut Erding.

Instead Newcastle's recruitment drive has hardly delivered the same sort of optimism which Kevin Keegan achieved with Sir John Hall's cash on the back of the club's last promotion in the summer of 1993.

James Perch's £1m-plus move from Nottingham Forest has hardly inspired, while Sol Campbell should turn out to be an ideal, short-term acquisition, provided he sheds a few pounds first.

The pick of the Magpies signings so far has to be the arrival of Dan Gosling, on a free, from Everton. But given he will not be fit until December, much of Newcastle's success this season will depend on those who delivered the Championship title last season.

Hughton faces a difficult season. With Newcastle supporters hoping for a midtable finish, a more realistic target should be to stay in the Premier League at the first time of asking.

If there are a number of Newcastle supporters are thinking finishing just outside the top ten will not be out of reach, perhaps Sunderland fans should have eyes on the Europa League.

Sunderland have had three successive seasons struggling against relegation, but under Steve Bruce they did make inroads towards finishing in the top half of the table.

Having finished 13th, Bruce should only have needed to tinker slightly. He has, however, brought in a large number of new players four of which have no experience of the English league and it is difficult to predict how they will do.

Selling Kenwyne Jones has also brought with it a number of questions, like who can provide the alternative option in the final third, even though Bruce is hoping to lure Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan to Wearside. A failure to bring a target-mantype forward in before the end of the month could prove to be a gamble too far.

American owner Ellis Short should be thinking of finishing in the top ten, that is the next step for a club backed by millions in recent years, and it will be interesting to see his approach if that fails to arrive.

By the end of the month there is likely to have been as many new arrivals at Middlesbrough than there has been at the Stadium of Light, as Gordon Strachan tries to bring back Premier League football to Teesside.

There is undoubtedly greater character and improved quality in the Middlesbrough squad, but there is still a need for width to be added to a squad still short of creativity. Nothing short of promotion will do for chairman Steve Gibson this season and Strachan knows it.

There have also been difficult periods for Hartlepool United and Darlington in the last few months. While the Quakers seem to have emerged through hard times in decent shape ahead of the Blue Square Bet Premier opener with Newport County, there remains doubts about Pools.

A summer of takeover talk has left Hartlepool boss Chris Turner struggling to recruit players he wanted. Having signed three in the last few weeks, however, he has to try to ensure that the fans tipping his team for relegation are not proved correct come May.

Darlington, on the other hand, are one of the most fancied after last season's depressing fall out of the Football League. In Mark Cooper, the former Tamworth and Kettering manager, they have a boss who knows the nonleague.

He has recruited wisely and in large numbers for that level, mixing experience with youth, and Darlington should be competing at the right end of the Blue Square Bet Premier this season. Finishing ahead of Luton, York and Grimsby should guarantee automatic promotion.

Source: Northern_Echo