Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson selects his North-East Team of the Season - in a 3-4-3 formation...


NORTH-EAST TEAM OF THE SEASON


Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Middlesbrough’s impressive defensive record has been the bedrock of their promotion push, and it has been built around Randolph’s consistent excellence in goal. The Irish international was deservedly named in the Championship Team of the Season, having played in every minute of Boro’s campaign. He has kept 19 clean sheets, with his best save seeing him tip Kamil Grosicki’s goal-bound free-kick onto the crossbar in the dying seconds of last month’s 1-0 win over Hull.


Fabian Schar (Newcastle)

The Northern Echo:

Rafael Benitez has made some successful signings during his reign as Newcastle manager, but none have been better than the £3m purchase of Schar from Deportivo La Coruna. The Swiss centre-half has been a revelation since forcing his way into the Magpies’ starting line-up in November. Tough and resolute in defence, but calm and composed in possession, he is ideally suited to Benitez’s five-man defensive system. His mazy dribble to score against Cardiff was one of the highlights of the season.


Tom Flanagan (Sunderland)

The Northern Echo:

He might have been one of the least heralded of Sunderland’s summer signings, but Flanagan, who moved to Wearside on a free transfer from Burton, has proved one of the best. He missed the start of the campaign through injury, but has been a key part of Jack Ross’ preferred line-up since returning to action in September. He has evolved into the leader of the Sunderland backline, and is likely to have a key role to play in the play-offs.


Dael Fry (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Given everything he has achieved in the last couple of years, it is easy to forget that Fry is just 21. If he continues progressing at his current rate, the Teessider could well evolve into one of the leading defenders in the country. He was in and out of the side when Tony Pulis was playing with a flat back four, but was an ever-present when fit once the Boro boss switched to a back five. Tall, athletic and good on the ball, Fry already looks like the complete centre-half.


Luke O’Nien (Sunderland)

The Northern Echo:

If one player sums up the new ethos that has emerged at Sunderland under Jack Ross, it is surely O’Nien. The summer signing from Wycombe struggled to make his mark in the first half of the season, when he was playing in midfield, but seized his chance spectacularly when he was moved to right-back. His whole-hearted approach has endeared him to the fans, and unlike some of his predecessors in red-and-white, he clearly relishes the opportunity to represent Sunderland.


Isaac Hayden (Newcastle)

The Northern Echo:

At the start of the season, it looked as though Hayden’s Newcastle career was heading for an ignominious end. He wanted to leave for family reasons, and his embarrassing dismissal at Cardiff hinted at a player who had thrown in the towel. Fast forward nine months, though, and Hayden has rebuilt his reputation magnificently. Since returning to the side in December, the midfielder has turned in a series of excellent displays, enabling him to keep a host of midfield rivals out of the team.


Lewis Wing (Middlesbrough)

The Northern Echo:

Given his background in the Northern League, Wing admits he still has to pinch himself every time he pulls on a Middlesbrough shirt. Yet while his route to the Championship might have been unorthodox, his right to be there is now beyond debate. In fact, it might not be long before he is playing at an even higher level. His drive and energy are crucial components of Boro’s midfield mix, and he has also developed an eye for goal, as evidenced by last weekend’s strike against Reading.


Matt Ritchie (Newcastle)

The Northern Echo:

Having spent almost a decade playing as a winger, Ritchie freely admits he could never have envisaged becoming a wing-back at such a late stage of his career. However, since moving into the role at the turn of the year, the Scotsman has been Newcastle’s most consistent performer. As a result, it is now hard to see him reverting to his former position. He is the ideal modern wing-back – tough and committed in defence, but purposeful and technically proficient in attack.


Ayoze Perez (Newcastle)

The Northern Echo:

It seems strange to describe this as Perez’s ‘breakthrough year’ given he joined Newcastle in 2014, but after a succession of seasons in which he threatened to make a major impact without ever quite realising his potential, the 25-year-old has finally stepped up to the Premier League’s elite level this term. His 12 goals make him Newcastle’s leading scorer, and he has proved an ideal foil for Salomon Rondon. With clubs from Spain sniffing, the Magpies’ biggest challenge this summer could be holding on to him.


Glen Taylor (Spennymoor)

The Northern Echo:

Having spearheaded Spennymoor’s surge to this weekend’s play-off semi-finals, Taylor was deservedly named National League North Player of the Season earlier this week. The striker has bagged a remarkable 31 goals this term, with his tally of 25 in the league making him the division’s leading scorer. There were plenty of highlights, not least the stoppage-time header against Darlington that got the ball rolling for him, but his stand-out display saw him score two screamers against Sutton.


Aiden McGeady (Sunderland)

The Northern Echo:

Given that he has won almost 100 international caps and played for the likes of Everton and Celtic, McGeady’s talent was always going to make him stand out in League One. The question at the start of the season was whether the 33-year-old had the stomach for life in the third tier. He has answered it emphatically. He has scored 14 goals in all competitions and provided a hatful of assists while bamboozling a succession of opponents. His two goals in the Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley were real highlights of Sunderland’s campaign.


MANAGER

Rafael Benitez (Newcastle)

The Northern Echo:

Forget the political machinations that have dominated the agenda on Tyneside this season – instead, just marvel at Benitez’s managerial achievements. Newcastle looked destined for the drop when they failed to win any of their opening ten league games, but Benitez refused to panic. Calmly and methodically, he tweaked his side’s defensive system, and turned his side into one of the most effective in the top-flight. Since the start of November, no one outside the top six has picked up more points than the Magpies.


Substitutes

Scott Loach (Hartlepool), Jamaal Lascelles (Newcastle), Aden Flint (Middlesbrough), Lee Cattermole (Sunderland), Jonny Howson (Middlesbrough), Stephen Thompson (Darlington), Salomon Rondon (Newcastle).   

Name your North-East team of the Year and tell us why

Name your North-East team of the Year and tell us why

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