With the season drawing to an end, it’s time to look back at the highs and lows of covering North-East football in the last nine months. It’s a personal selection, so I’m only considering games I’ve actually attended this season…


There are a few contenders for this, with Newcastle’s remarkable 2-1 win over Manchester City an obvious highlight. The Magpies’ 3-2 win over Everton was an entertaining affair, while Boro’s victory over West Brom by the same scoreline was a rare example of Tony Pulis releasing the handbrake as his side chased the game.

However, in terms of incident and drama, it’s impossible to look past Sunderland’s barely-believable 5-4 home defeat to Coventry City. Every time the Black Cats got themselves back into it, they conceded another goal. The result was an unforgettable afternoon.


Sadly, there are plenty of contenders for this too. Newcastle’s goalless home draw with Fulham just before Christmas was wretched, and some of Sunderland’s early Checkatrade Trophy games were complete non-events.

Boro were the masters of being dull though, with a host of home games lacking any kind of entertainment. It’s hard to pick just one, but I’ll flag up October’s goalless game with Rotherham United as the Riverside nadir.


Darren Randolph excelled in goal for Boro, and Aiden McGeady repeatedly stood out for Sunderland at League One level.

Newcastle were the North-East’s biggest achievers this season though, and while Fabian Schar, Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon can all claim to have been the Magpies’ stand-out player, I’m going to go for Matt Ritchie. His performances after being switched to wing-back were consistently excellent.


This is a tricky one because Newcastle tended to contain the top sides in the Premier League reasonably well, so no one really stood out against them. Sunderland outperformed most of the sides they came up against, although Portsmouth’s Jamal Lowe troubled them on more than one occasion.

I’m going to focus on the Championship, however, and flag up Jack Grealish’s two performances against Boro this season. Aston Villa won both of their matches against the Teessiders 3-0, with Grealish standing out a mile on each occasion. Whatever happens in Villa’s play-off final against Derby, Grealish will surely be playing in the Premier League next season.


Ayoze Perez scored some memorable goals for Newcastle, although the Magpies’ best strike was probably Fabian Schar’s mazy finish against Cardiff. Chris Maguire slammed in a couple of pile-drivers for Sunderland, and Aiden McGeady’s free-kick at Wembley was certainly the most celebrated strike.

For best goal, though, I’m going with Lewis Wing’s long-range winner in Middlesbrough’s Carabao Cup success over Crystal Palace. Wing’s development from Northern League performer to established Championship star has been one of the most uplifting stories of the season.


The top Premier League grounds continue to stand out, although more for their working environment and infrastructure rather than their atmosphere, which can sometimes be underwhelming. It will be interesting to see how Tottenham’s rebuilt White Hart Lane measures up when Newcastle visit next season.

Having covered a host of England matches, the novelty of visiting the new Wembley has worn off. However, it’s rare I’m at Wembley for a club game, and March’s Checkatrade Trophy final provided a welcome reminder of just how great a stadium the FA have built. The sight of more than 80,000 fans passionately singing their hearts out was something to behold.


For the main part, following Sunderland around League One has been a pleasure. An early-season trip to a sunny AFC Wimbledon was thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ve been able to tick off Wycombe, Fleetwood and Bristol Rovers from the list of grounds I’d never previously been to.

Life in League One has not been without its challenges, though, and sitting in a cramped press box at Southend United, with the wireless signal dropping out every two minutes and without a desk to balance my laptop on was a challenge. Southend are planning to leave Roots Hall in the next couple of years – judging by the paint peeling from the walls of the stands, it is probably time they moved on.


Back to Wembley here, or more precisely, the night before the Checkatrade Trophy final when Sunderland’s long-suffering supporters took over Trafalgar Square.

So many smiling faces, so many red-and-white scarfs, not to mention the odd flare. It felt like the moment when Sunderland fans were finally able to celebrate having their club back, with Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven and Juan Sartori watching on and taking selfies.


Thankfully, Newcastle have long moved on from the ‘Michael Owen days’ when players would view the media with undisguised disdain. With the exception of the elusive Jonjo Shelvey, the current Newcastle squad are great to deal with, with especially honourable mentions for Martin Dubravka, Fabian Schar and Ayoze Perez. At Boro, George Friend has been as friendly and engaging as ever, with Jonny Howson and Adam Clayton also always willing to chat.

Lee Cattermole gets top spot though, with his interviews always brutally honest and full of interesting insights. The Sunderland midfielder was especially frank when talking about his Wembley penalty miss – once his playing career ends, I could definitely see him moving into management.


Rafael Benitez is great to deal with, but he rarely gives much away once the tape recorders are turned on. Jack Ross has been fantastic from a media point of view since moving to Sunderland, but the Black Cats boss hasn’t had to say anything too controversial this season.

So the most memorable press conference moment was the morning at Rockliffe Park when Tony Pulis bluntly stated that the Middlesbrough squad “was not good enough to win promotion”. In the end, he was proved right. But his negativity jarred given Boro’s position in the top two at the time.


Kick-off times. And more specifically, the effect that ridiculous kick-off times have on the loyal North-East fans who travel the length and breadth of the country to follow their team.

We’re lucky in the media – we get paid to go to games on the south coast at 5.30pm on a Saturday night – but most fans have to make huge sacrifices to attend matches that are routinely rescheduled without any thought for the travelling supporter. Sadly, with the broadcasters pushing for more and more Saturday night fixtures, I can only see the situation getting worse.


Newcastle – no more ‘will he or won’t he’ with Rafael Benitez, a change of ownership and a permanent deal for Salomon Rondon.

Middlesbrough – a new boss who wants to play attacking football and more game time for Nathan Wood and Marcus Tavernier

Sunderland – outside investment with Stewart Donald remaining as chairman, holding on to Jack Ross and the permanent reopening of the Premier Concourse