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North-East Team of the Season
Tim Krul (Newcastle)
At the start of the campaign, Krul was battling with Steve Harper and Fraser Forster for the right to be Newcastle's number one. Nine months on, and the Dutchman has established himself as one of the leading goalkeepers in English football.
His 15 clean sheets have been a key factor in the Magpies' success this season, with his shot-stopping abilities frustrating a host of opposition attackers and his calm assurance belying his relative lack of experience at the highest level.
His performances earn him the goalkeeping spot ahead of Simon Mignolet and Jason Steele, two other youngsters who have impressed this term.
Phil Bardsley (Sunderland)
Bardsley has made the column's Team of the Season for the second year in succession, but this time he switches from the left, where he spent much of the 2010-11 campaign, to the right, where he is more naturally at home.
The Scotland international has enjoyed another consistent campaign, regularly standing out as the most effective member of Sunderland's back four.
He continues to chip in with some valuable goals - last weekend's effort at Fulham was another sweetly-hit strike - and he tends to be more defensively secure than his main rival for a place in this side, Danny Simpson.
Jack Baldwin (Hartlepool)
He might only be 18, but Baldwin has enjoyed a stellar breakthrough season that has seen him establish himself in Hartlepool's first team and emerge as one of the brightest defensive prospects in League One.
Branded a "potential superstar" by Pools boss Neale Cooper, the teenager boasts excellent positional awareness and a maturity way beyond his years.
Signed from Faversham Town last summer, he made his senior debut in midfield against Colchester in December, but it's at centre-half where he has really impressed in the second-half of the season and this week signed an improved contract that commits his long-term future to Pools.
Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle)
The Newcastle skipper has gone from strength to strength this season, marshalling a Magpies backline that has evolved into one of the most effective defensive units in the Premier League.
The Argentinian has eradicated the errors that peppered the early days of his Newcastle career and developed into a consistent, reliable centre-half who can dominate on both the ground and in the air.
He also proved an inspired choice as captain, helping to hold the Newcastle dressing room together despite the departure of a number of big names last summer.
Evan Horwood (Hartlepool)
Tough and consistent, left-back Horwood has been refreshed by the return to the club of manager Neale Cooper.
His willingness to push forward has been a key feature of Pools' attacking play and his defensive reliability and concentration has improved in the second half of the season under Cooper's man-management.
He edges out Ryan Taylor, who was unable to retain his place in the Newcastle side despite an excellent autumn, and Middlesbrough's Joe Bennett, who couldn't quite match the stellar standards he set in the previous campaign.
Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle)
For a large chunk of the season, Alan Pardew was reluctant to trust Ben Arfa in Newcastle's first team. While his talent was never in question, the Frenchman's discipline and work ethic were up for debate.
Not any more. In the last two months, Ben Arfa has been magnificent, blending mesmeric attacking with a willingness to track back and work for the rest of the team.
The winger provided two of the highlights of the season with his mazy meanders against Blackburn and Bolton, and should end the summer in France's Euro 2012 team.
Nicky Bailey (Middlesbrough)
It is no coincidence that Middlesbrough's season fell apart when Bailey suffered the knee injury that kept him on the sidelines for a crucial two-month spell.
Prior to his absence, the former Charlton midfielder had been the fulcrum of the Boro midfield, screening the back four and enabling the club's attacking players to push forward without fear of what was going on behind them.
He returned to aid the club's unsuccessful play-off push in the final month of the season, and will be extremely difficult to replace if he is allowed to leave for financial reasons this summer.
Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle)
His arrival in a £4.8m move from Lille was relatively unheralded last summer, but of all the signings Newcastle have made in the last 12 months, the capture of Cabaye might well be the best.
The 26-year-old is a fantastic midfielder, polished and assured in possession, capable of holding his own in a more physical encounter and boasting a keen eye for goal that has seen him score five times this term.
Recent matches have seen him play in a more prominent position, but his greatest asset is his ability to thread a through ball behind an opposition defence to release the likes of Papiss Cisse towards goal.
James McClean (Sunderland)
For the first 14 Premier League matches, McClean was nowhere to be seen. Then he came off the bench to make his senior debut against Blackburn Rovers, and Sunderland's season was transformed in an instant.
Unquestionably the biggest success story of the Black Cats' season, McClean has wreaked havoc on the left flank, beating opposition full-backs at will with his pace and direct running.
He is surprisingly strong for a 23-year-old, has chipped in with five valuable goals, and fully deserves his call-up to the Republic of Ireland squad for this summer's European Championships.
Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland)
He has been Sunderland's best attacker for the majority of the season, and Sessegnon's form was arguably the most important factor in the dramatic upturn that followed Martin ONeill's appointment in December.
The Benin international has scored a number of crucial goals and currently tops the Black Cats' goalscoring charts with eight in all competitions.
He is vital to ONeill's preferred formation, linking midfield with attack and playing between the lines, and Sunderland are braced for a series of big-money offers for his services, with Arsenal expected to be at the front of the queue.
Papiss Cisse (Newcastle)
He didn't even leave Germany until mid-January, but Cisse could well end the campaign as the North-East's Player of the Season such has been the extent of his impact in a black-and-white shirt.
The Senegal international has been a revelation since joining Newcastle for £9m, scoring 13 goals in his first 12 games and evoking memories of Andy Cole, another expert goalscorer who made an immediate impression for the Magpies.
His second strike in this month's 2-0 win over Chelsea was the North-East Goal of the Season, and he is already attracting covetous glances from some of Europe's leading clubs.
1. Simon Mignolet (Sunderland)
2. Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough)
3. Kris Taylor (Darlington)
4. Cheik Tiote (Newcastle)
5. Barry Robson (Middlesbrough)
6. Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough) 7. Demba Ba (Newcastle)
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