I can personally testify to the passion the North East of England has for football and whilst in recent decades its three main clubs do not have the trophies to match the depth of meaning football holds in the region, it can still point to a number of legendary names that emanate from the area. Bobby Robson, Brian Clough, Bobby Charlton, Jack Charlton, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley and Alan Shearer are all names synonymous with success, and all hail from this region.
Newcastle United may not be the global brand of Liverpool or Manchester United, but you only have to walk around the city centre on any given day to get an idea of the depth of feeling that exists between the city and its football club. Sunderland too, is a city proud of its football heritage and passionate about their club. Just down the road, Middlesbrough is a smaller town and a smaller club, but passionate nonetheless, and looking on the verge of promotion back to the promised land, where not so long ago they were in the UEFA Cup Final.
To have all three clubs in the top division again would be a shot in the arm for a region built on industries that are being eroded from Britain’s landscape. If Middlesbrough do get promoted it is unlikely they would be making a North East trio in the Premier League as it’s pretty much inconceivable that both Newcastle and Sunderland will both survive and there’s a good chance neither will. However, this weekend has given them hope, with Sunderland recording a 3-0 win over the team just above them, Norwich; whilst Newcastle also recorded a 3-0 victory, over Swansea.
For Sunderland, their win brought them to just a point within Norwich and, perhaps significantly, with a far superior goal difference. The Black Cats also hold a game in hand over Norwich, though that will be against Arsenal next weekend so they cannot get too confident. Sunderland have been more solid recently, but have not scored enough goals and perhaps that performance against Norwich could just be the catalyst to solving that issue. As he did against Norwich, Fabio Borini has a habit of popping up with goals at important times and Jermain Defoe remains a threat and has easily been Sunderland’s most prolific player. For Norwich, results are turning at the wrong time and with only four games left, the remaining fixtures for them look very tough on paper, whilst Sunderland’s look more favourable against Stoke, Everton and Watford. Sam Allardyce has yet to be relegated from the Premier League and right now, is looking increasingly likely to maintain that record.
If Norwich’s defeat and tough remaining fixtures present an opportunity, Newcastle simply have to put themselves in a position to take advantage. Beating Swansea was huge for the Magpies after a poor run of results from a squad that has massively underperformed this year. The win was the first since Rafa Benitez took charge a few weeks ago and the Spaniard will hope this result will be the boost of confidence and belief that was so clearly lacking and perhaps galvanise his team for the critical games ahead. Swansea will likely wonder how they lost 3-0, given the number of chances they created. Indeed, the Newcastle goal led a charmed life at times, particularly in the second half just before they scored the all-important second goal. Next up for them is Manchester City at home, followed by a trip to Anfield to face one of Benitez’s former clubs, Liverpool. Two tough fixtures, not helped by City finding form and Newcastle having an appalling away record, but if they are to stand a chance of surviving, then they will need to find a big result and fast.
With Aston Villa now confirmed as relegated and sixteenth place well ahead of Norwich, the odds are that it will be two from Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle that join Villa in the Championship next season, meaning the North East will still be punching below its weight. A region of proud people with a history steeped in coal mining, iron making and ship building, that built the first railway and gave the world Jackie Milburn and the great Bob Paisley are now finding life as tricky as their football clubs. Maybe, just maybe, there’s some hope on the horizon.