ANOTHER 12 months have gone and the region’s football clubs all face contrasting times in the next year. Whether it is Sunderland and Middlesbrough’s battles to stay in the Premier League or Newcastle United’s promotion charge.

Mistakes have been made, plenty of them in some cases, and it will be hoped lessons have been learned by all in the attempts to deliver more sustainable and acceptable results. Middlesbrough’s promotion in 2016 look to be emulated by Newcastle this May, so not all is doom and gloom.

And if David Moyes and his depleted Sunderland squad can climb away from the bottom three – like the Black Cats have tended to do during the last few years – then the Stadium of Light’s fans will be in for a decent start to the year too.


What did they get right in 2016?

Promotion. It’s that simple. The aim under head coach Aitor Karanka was to secure a return to the Premier League and he delivered, via a second-place finish in the Championship.

Karanka’s Boro – after a summer of change in the squad - have started promisingly in the Premier League, even if they are still hovering close to the relegation zone after 20 matches. They have shown they can compete at the highest level, boasting a defensive approach that has caused the best problems.

What did they get wrong in 2016?

There was that blip last March when some of Karanka’s flaws appeared; ‘will he, won’t he lose his job’, after he had stormed out of a team meeting ahead of the trip to Charlton, where he ended up being told not to lead them into the game.

It has also become apparent that Jordan Rhodes, despite the £9m initial fee from Blackburn, was not the sort of attacking signing Karanka wanted, so it seems a bit of a wasted deal (even if Rhodes did score a few in the promotion run in).

And scoring goals has remained a problem in the Premier League.

Hopes for 2017?

Staying in the top-flight is the only priority. There is still a four point cushion to the relegation zone, and Boro’s defensive resilience and bodes well for grinding out the results to keep them in the top tier.

It is hoped Middlesbrough develop a greater knack of creating good chances and testing goalkeepers more often. If they can do that then there is every reason to believe they can climb up towards the top ten.

Karanka is not a manager happy with his lot. He does not want Middlesbrough to stand still, even if it means just staying up this season. To really push on he needs to find a way for his team to score more goals.

Fears for 2017?

That Middlesbrough are unable to conjure up a way of scoring more goals. It has been so far so good in terms of staying out of the bottom three, but a lack of goals could present a problem.

Together with Hull they boast the poorest scoring record in the division after 20 matches, despite having attacking talents such as Alvaro Negredo, Stewart Downing, Gaston Ramirez and Adam Traore in their ranks.

It is also hoped everyone stays together at the Riverside. The atmosphere remains good and the players have retained team spirit, but problems could emerge if Middlesbrough don’t pose more of a threat in the final third more regularly.

What do they need to do in this transfer window?

Middlesbrough have already lined up Rudy Gestede from Aston Villa in a £6m deal. He will provide an alternative option to leading the line to Negredo, boasting similar attributes.

Beyond that Karanka will be looking to strengthen his defence again and it could see Daniel Ayala move on if the right offer comes along. Rhodes could depart too for the right price.

Middlesbrough could do with an alternative winger. Traore has looked good and bad in his appearances so far, and very raw. Without him there is still a lack of pace in the team.


What did they get right in 2016?

After starting the year with a victory over Aston Villa, Sunderland only suffered four defeats in their final 19 Premier League fixtures. Such form secured their top-flight status for a further year.

Sam Allardyce made some crucial January signings, by landing Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone. All three had integral parts to play in the relegation fight.

The appointment of David Moyes, as a replacement for Sam Allardyce, could still be regarded as a success. He has not had the tools he would have preferred to continue the progress made under his predecessor, nor was the timing of his appointment ideal, yet there have still been signs of improvements recently.

Then there was the decision to given Jordan Pickford his chance and Jermain Defoe’s goals.

What did they get wrong in 2016?

A lot of what Sunderland have got wrong can be put down to Allardyce’s decision to takeover the England hot-seat, and who could blame him at the time.

But the timing, late in pre-season, left Moyes playing catch up on transfers and systems; the contract Lamine Kone had been told he would receive hardly helped either, leaving uncertainty hanging over his future amid Everton interest.

The money Sunderland did have available was spent largely on players lacking Premier League experience like Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji, while a further increase in the club’s debts have not helped either.

Hopes for 2017?

If Moyes can oversee a successful survival fight then Sunderland could enter a brighter future. Ellis Short’s attempts to sell the club will have been boosted and a sale might should in a new owner with an intention to carry on the investment in the squad.

The debts, stated at around the £140m mark last time, need to be reduced and the desire of Moyes and chief executive Martin Bain to make the squad younger and more financially sustainable could reap greater rewards.

First and foremost, though, Sunderland must preserve top-flight status and keeping Defoe fit – and out of the clutches of West Ham this month – will be a massive bonus come February in itself.

Fears for 2017?

If Kone and Defoe are sold then Sunderland could be really in trouble. The squad already has massive problems on the injury front and those two – as well as injured goalkeeper Jordan Pickford – are three of the main reasons why they could stay in the Premier League.

But the problem facing Moyes is that all three can command significant transfer fees and if the offers come along then owner Short will be faced with tough decisions: whether to gamble and keep them until the summer? Or to reduce the debts now by selling.

Moyes and Sunderland fans will be banking on the latter, otherwise it is difficult to imagine Sunderland avoiding the drop into the Championship for the first time since 2007.

What do they need to do in the transfer window?

The Sunderland squad requires fresh blood in a number of areas, whether Moyes is given the freedom to fill those holes is more debatable.

The biggest priority from the manager’s point of view is coming up with a couple of decent signings on the cheap while hoping Short will back him, having spent the last month being told no funds are available.

And all the while Sunderland will be wrestling with the idea of listening and weighing up offers from interested clubs for the likes of Defoe and Kone; there has also been interest in Fabio Borini from Italy.


What did they get right in 2016?

Appointing Rafael Benitez was a masterstroke. After years of criticism being hurled in the direction of owner Mike Ashley, he won over a huge number of fans by successfully targeting the former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss.

Benitez moved in, was unable to keep Newcastle in the Premier League and yet decided to remain on Tyneside after feeling the love of the Geordies.

Since then he has gone about transforming the whole mood at St James’ Park, signing players who he wanted (unlike his predecessors) and he has put Newcastle on track for an immediate return to the top-flight by pushing into the Championship’s top two.

What did they get wrong in 2016?

Regardless of how long Benitez had in charge of Newcastle in the Premier League, the reality is that they still went down and that was costly.

Steve McClaren, who had hoped for more freedom in the way he did things after replacing John Carver and Alan Pardew, was unable to deliver the results to lift Newcastle and in the end the decision to stick with him for as long as they did proved costly.

There have been a few strange purchases, which haven’t really worked out, but the Newcastle fans will look back on the previous 12 months as a period that in the end heralded new hope, however costly relegation was.

Hopes for 2017?

Newcastle fans can look ahead to an exciting year, provided Benitez continues the promotion push and the players finish it off after the disappointment of losing at Blackburn last weekend.

Given the finances that have been made available for new players since taking over, and more expected this month, then supporters can expect further investment in the squad during the summer if promotion does arrive.

Benitez will not be looking to have the easy life at St James’ Park. He has had career glittered with silverware, so he will want to be competing at the top end of the Premier League table during his time in charge. He has already improved the relationship between fans, the players and the boardoom.

Fears for 2017?

Two defeats in the last three games has seen Brighton take charge in the promotion race. The real fear would be that Newcastle continue to slip, but it is difficult to imagine that happening given who is in charge and the size of the squad.

Newcastle should go up. Provided they do it will be all eyes on the summer, when Benitez will look to tinker with his squad to make it Premier League equipped. In the past Ashley has been reluctant to back his manager, it will be hoped the owner does not revert to his old ways.

What do they need to do in this transfer window?

Newcastle have already got the best squad in the Championship, so you wouldn’t think that much by way of change is needed. There will be interest in Newcastle players, such as Aleksandar Mitrovic, and those that leave will need to be replaced.

Benitez is keen to strength this month. He wants a midfielder and striker. Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson and Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek are two of those highest in his sights, while Manchester City’s out of favour midfielder Fabian Delph is also on the radar.

The Africa Cup of Nations has reduced the options for Benitez in January, which is why he is keen to move quickly to add to his squad.