SUNDERLAND'S decision to offer their supporters free coach travel to Old Trafford for this month's Capital One Cup semi-final second leg reflects a growing acceptance among Premier League clubs that away fans are facing mounting financial difficulties, but it also an acknowledgement of the hectic schedule the Black Cats have faced in the last few months.

Since the start of December, Sunderland supporters have been forced to travel 1,532 miles to support their club in all of their matches.

By the end of this month, the total will have increased to 2,390 miles, a figure that has understandably begun to have an effect on attendances.

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The away end at this month's semi-final decider in Manchester has long since sold out, but with trips to Arsenal, Norwich, Tottenham and Chelsea still to come this season, not to mention today's journey to Fulham, there is a determination to help away fans attend as many matches as possible in the second half of the campaign.

Sunderland are subsidising away tickets for next month's Tyne-Wear derby at Newcastle by £20, and this week's decision to offer free travel to Old Trafford is unlikely to be the last such initiative between now and the middle of May.


THE region's Winter Olympic hopefuls will discover their fate when the rest of the British team for Sochi is announced on January 22.

With the figure skating squad already having been announced, North Shields' Matt Parr is one of only a handful of athletes already guaranteed a place on Team GB.

Bishop Auckland-born bobsleigh driver John Jackson is certain to be named in the four-man bob team, with Stockton biathlete Lee-Steve Jackson expected to be selected for at least two of the biathlon events.

However, Consett's Mica McNeill and Durham's Emily Sarsfield face a nervous few weeks as they wait to discover whether they have made the cut for the women's bobsleigh and ski cross events respectively.

The Northern Echo: HIGH HOPES: Mica McNeill in training for the Great Britain bobsleigh team in 2009


ROBSON GREEN was celebrating at Newcastle Racecourse last weekend as the Northumberland Racing Club, of which he is a founding member, celebrated their first win under rules.

Total Assets, trained by local Newcastle trainer Simon Waugh, claimed the RV Rutter Handicap Hurdle under Grand National-winning jockey, Ryan Mania.

Formed last September, the 30-strong Northumberland Racing Club has two horses in training with Waugh, with further purchases likely in the future.

Based at Molesden House, near Morpeth, Waugh is a new arrival on the northern jumps scene and his progress will be monitored with a great degree of interest in the next few months.

The Northern Echo: Robson Green in Wire in the Blood


HE might have narrowly failed to make the semi-finals of the BDO World Darts Championship as he lost to Robbie Green on Thursday evening, but Tony Eccles nevertheless retires as one of the North-East's most successful darts players.

A career that spanned more than two decades saw Eccles claim nine major ranking titles, and play in both the BDO and PDC following world darts' acrimonious split.

Born in Middlesbrough, and now based in Hartlepool, Eccles, who was nicknamed 'The Viper', was a close friend of the late Phill Nixon, with the pair often travelling together to attend county competitions.