Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson selects his North-East Team of the Season for 2017-18

MARTIN DUBRAVKA (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

Since joining Newcastle from Sparta Prague in January, Dubravka has produced a string of impressive displays that have propelled the Magpies away from the relegation zone. He hit the ground running, with a string of saves on his debut contributing to a 1-0 win over Manchester United, and has conceded just eight goals in his nine games in a Newcastle shirt. A calm and assuring presence, who dominates his penalty area, he will become a permanent signing when the Magpies trigger a clause in his deal this summer.

DEANDRE YEDLIN (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

The American full-back has always boasted plenty of pace and energy, but in the past his defensive capabilities have let him down. Not anymore. Yedlin has posed a consistent threat on the overlap this season, beating opposition full-backs to deliver a cross from the right flank, but crucially, he has also become a much more reliable defender. Strong in the tackle and positionally secure, the 24-year-old has started all bar two of Newcastle’s matches since breaking into the side in mid-September.

DANIEL AYALA (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Ayala was a key part of Middlesbrough’s last successful promotion campaign under Aitor Karanka, and the Spanish centre-half has emerged as a pivotal performer once again as Boro have forced their way into the play-offs under Tony Pulis. His rugged, no-nonsense defensive style chimes perfectly with the demands of Boro’s new boss, and he has also proved a valuable attacking asset, scoring seven league goals to aid his side’s promotion push.

JAMAAL LASCELLES (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

It is easy to forget now, but Lascelles did not start Newcastle’s opening game of the season against Tottenham. From the moment he came off the bench to replace the injured Paul Dummett though, he has emerged as the linchpin of his side’s successful survival battle. A leader who revels in wearing the captain’s armband, he has produced a string of hugely-impressive defensive displays and can count himself extremely unfortunate not to have been selected for international honours.

GEORGE FRIEND (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Paul Dummett is a strong contender to fill the left-back berth, but Friend gets the nod after rediscovering his best form so spectacularly in the second half of the season. Having endured a difficult time in the Premier League, Friend started the season slowly, but his performances have been transformed since Tony Pulis replaced Garry Monk. His trademark attacking surges are back, along with a tough-tackling defensive resilience that has helped make Boro so difficult to break down.

JONJO SHELVEY (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

He might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but Shelvey has had a magnificent season at the heart of Newcastle’s midfield. He is arguably the best long passer in the Premier League, and his pinpoint long balls have set up a succession of goals for those playing in front of him. His temperament has improved markedly since his two dismissals in the first half of the season, and Rafael Benitez clearly feels he can now trust him to remain on the field. Gareth Southgate should be taking him to Russia.

MO BESIC (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Mo Diame has been excellent at the heart of Newcastle’s midfield, but Besic edges ahead of him as his arrival at the Riverside has proved crucial to Boro’s promotion hopes. The Everton loanee possesses a drive and energy that have thrust Boro onto the front foot in recent weeks, and having been instructed to play further up the field, his breaks into the box have provided valuable support to those playing ahead of him. If Boro can sign him permanently this summer, it will be quite a coup.

ADAMA TRAORE (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Under Garry Monk, Traore was still something of a show pony. The lightning-fast dribbles were there, but there was little in the way of end product and the Spaniard’s temperament was an issue. Since Tony Pulis arrived at the Riverside, however, his performances have been transformed. He has scored five goals and set up countless others, with his pace and technical ability bamboozling just about everyone he has come up against. Holding on to him will be a huge challenge, even if Boro are promoted.

AYOZE PEREZ (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

Perez has had his critics during his time at Newcastle, but the Spaniard has been one of the Magpies’ most consistent and influential players as they have forced themselves into the top half of the table. He has made the ‘number ten’ role his own, scoring seven goals in all competitions, and successfully linked Newcastle’s midfield with their attack. His technical ability has never been in doubt, but he has added some physicality and resolve to his play that have made him an even more effective attacker.

KENEDY (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

Rafael Benitez was desperate to sign Kenedy last summer, but was unable to set up a deal for the Chelsea winger. Sometimes, good things come to those who wait. Since arriving in January, the Brazilian has significantly enhanced Newcastle’s attacking threat, with his pace and power on the flank making him an extremely difficult player to contain. His two goals in the 3-0 win over Southampton were excellent, and Benitez will be doing everything he can to try to retain his services.


The Northern Echo: GOAL BOOST: Reece Styche has already netted five times in four appearances for Darlington since his November switch from Tamworth. That tally makes him the club’s joint-top marksman and he also grabbed ten for the Lambs

Dwight Gayle has done well with Newcastle, and both Britt Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford have scored crucial goals for Middlesbrough, but in terms of transforming a team’s fortunes, no striker has done more this season that Darlington’s Styche. Since signing from Tamworth halfway through the campaign, the 29-year-old’s 13 goals in 22 games have lifted the Quakers away from trouble. A charismatic leader, he was immediately handed the captain’s armband, such is his importance to the rest of the team.


Scott Loach (Hartlepool United), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), Florian Lejeune (Newcastle United), George Honeyman (Sunderland), Matt Ritchie (Newcastle United), Lewis Grabban (Sunderland), Britt Assombalonga (Middlesbrough)


RAFAEL BENITEZ (Newcastle United)

The Northern Echo:

Matthew Bates was a contender thanks to his efforts at Hartlepool United in the last couple of months, but Benitez’s achievements at Newcastle merit a huge amount of praise. Denied a significant transfer budget last summer, Benitez still managed to guide his side into the top half of the table, improving a host of players working under him along the way. He has built up an extremely close relationship with the Newcastle support, and it is essential he is tied down to a new deal this summer.