Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson selects his North-East Team of the Season for 2021-22


GOALKEEPER


ANTHONY PATTERSON (SUNDERLAND)

The Northern Echo: Anthony Patterson

It is remarkable to think that as recently as January 2, Patterson was still turning out for Notts County in the National League. He was recalled when both of Sunderland’s senior goalkeepers contracted Covid, and after establishing himself as the club’s new first-choice shot-stopper, the 22-year-old played a crucial role in achieving promotion under Alex Neil.

Patterson was excellent in the final three months of the season, with his shot-stopping prowess allied to a maturity and confidence that belies his lack of experience. His dominance of his 18-yard box was a major strength, and when he was called upon to produce a crucial save from Sam Vokes in the play-off final, he delivered.


DEFENDERS


ISAIAH JONES (MIDDLESBROUGH)

The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough's Isaiah Jones celebrates after his cross found team-mate Matt Crooks to score their second goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: Saturday February 12, 2022.

While the rest of the country was asking, ‘Why did Middlesbrough allow Djed Spence to leave on loan’, Boro fans were ready with the answer, ‘Because we’ve got Isaiah Jones instead’. The rate of Jones’ progress this season has been staggering, with the 22-year-old evolving from an untried novice who had spent the previous campaign on loan at Queen of the South to a Championship regular being linked with Premier League clubs.

Quick and agile in defence, Jones is nevertheless at his best when he is able to cut loose and pour forward down the right-hand side. He was involved in a number of Boro goals this season, most notably setting up the dramatic last-minute winner at Blackpool and scoring his maiden senior goal against Swansea.


BEN HEDLEY (DARLINGTON)

The Northern Echo:

It has been something of a mixed season for Darlington in National League North, but while David Wheater’s mid-season arrival helped strengthen the Quakers’ defence, it was his fellow defender, Hedley, who shone brightest over the course of the whole of the campaign.

Formerly with Morecambe and Bradford PA, Hedley joined Darlington in 2019, and it is no coincidence he is one of the first players Alun Armstrong looked to sign up this summer. Strong, athletic and able to fill a number of different defensive positions, the Gateshead-born 23-year-old is set to remain a key part of Darlington’s backline next season.


DAN BURN (NEWCASTLE)

The Northern Echo: Newcastle United's Dan Burn (left) and Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Sunday May 8, 2022.

As a childhood Newcastle fan, there was a sentimental angle to the £13m transfer that took Burn to St James’ Park from Brighton in January. Strip out the emotion, though, and it is the quality of the Magpies’ business that shines through. In the current climate, how on earth did they get such a talented defender for such a reasonable price?

Burn has been sensational in his first four months as a Newcastle player, transforming the side’s defensive resilience and forming a hugely-effective partnership with Fabian Schar. His size means he is always going to be good in the air, but his positioning and comfort with the ball at his feet were equally impressive.


DENNIS CIRKIN (SUNDERLAND)

The Northern Echo: Sunderland's Dennis Cirkin (left) and Wycombe Wanderers' Jason McCarthy battle for the ball during the Sky Bet League One play-off final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday May 21, 2022.

There were fairly high hopes when Cirkin joined Sunderland from Tottenham in August, and having made 41 senior appearances over the course of a season that saw the Black Cats finally win promotion to the Championship, it is safe to say that the 20-year-old more than lived up to them.

Equally comfortable as a left-back or as the left of three centre-halves, Cirkin’s calm, assured nature was a key factor in Sunderland’s marked defensive improvement under Alex Neil. The youngster clearly relishes the opportunity to break forward, but crucially, he was not overawed by the physical questions that were asked of him in League One.


MIDFIELDERS


BRUNO GUIMARAES (NEWCASTLE)

The Northern Echo: Newcastle United's Bruno Guimaraes celebrates scoring their side's second goal of the game during the Premier League match at St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture date: Monday May 16, 2022.

When Guimaraes signed from Lyon for around £35m in January, Newcastle supporters were hopeful the club has signed their first genuinely top-class talent of their new Saudi-backed era. Little did they know, however just how good the Brazilian would be. In the space of just 17 Premier League appearances, the midfielder has already delivered some sensational displays.

From the remarkable back-heel flick at Southampton that announced his arrival, to the last-minute winner that saw off Leicester, Guimaraes has proved he has a real eye for goal. His creative vision is also readily apparent, enabling him to dictate play from the heart of the Magpies midfield.


JONNY HOWSON (MIDDLESBROUGH)

The Northern Echo: FA CUP. Boro v Spurs. Tues1stMar2022. © MATTHEW MERRICK PHOTOGRAPHY

At some stage soon, Howson’s powers will surely start to wane. For now, though, while he might have turned 34 last week, the Middlesbrough skipper remains one of the best defensive midfielders outside the Premier League. As Neil Warnock and Chris Wilder both agreed, Boro remain fortunate to have him.

He was excellent again this season, winning tackles, mopping up loose balls and sparking attacks with sharp upfield passes. His best display came in the FA Cup victory over Tottenham, when he took on a host of seasoned internationals and was the best player on the pitch by a considerable distance.


JOELINTON (NEWCASTLE)

The Northern Echo: Leicester City's James Justin (left) and Newcastle United's Joelinton battle for the ball during the Premier League match at St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture date: Sunday April 17, 2022.

He’s Brazilian – and he only cost £40m. At the start of the season, that chant would have been seen as a form of self-mockery, but after a truly remarkable nine months in which he was transformed from a misfiring striker to an all-action central midfielder, Joelinton has become both a cult hero and an established Premier League star.

His initial switch to midfield occurred as an accident, with Eddie Howe having to reshuffle his side after Ciaran Clark was sent off against Norwich, but his performance that day hinted at a potential that was realised over the rest of the season. His two goals in April’s win at Carrow Road really brought the house down.


FORWARDS


ALEX PRITCHARD (SUNDERLAND)

The Northern Echo: Sunderland's Alex Pritchard celebrates after the Sky Bet League One play-off final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday May 21, 2022.

He can play as a number ten or wide attacker, but wherever he lined up this season, it did not take Pritchard long to prove he was far too good for League One. His poise in possession, ability from set-pieces and timing of his runs into the box made him stand out as a stellar talent at third-tier level.

His free-kick at AFC Wimbledon in Neil’s first game in charge was probably his best goal, but it was his ability to thread ball through for Ross Stewart and Nathan Broadhead that was probably his biggest strength. He finished the season in style, being named Man of the Match in the play-off final.


ROSS STEWART (SUNDERLAND)

The Northern Echo: SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30: Ross Stewart of Sunderland holds his signed match ball after scoring a hat trick to take him to top scorer in League One during the Sky Bet League One match between Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday at Stadium of Light

When Charlie Wyke moved to Wigan last summer, it was not immediately clear that Stewart would be capable of stepping into the departing striker’s shoes. Not only did the Scot fill the gap left by Wyke though, he outperformed his fellow forward and fired Sunderland back to the Championship.

Stewart’s 26 goals from 49 appearances were the single biggest factor in the Black Cats’ successful promotion campaign. He scored two or more goals in a game on seven occasions – the brace at Wigan and hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday stand out – and it felt fitting that it was his late strike at Wembley that made things safe against Wycombe.


LUKE MOLYNEUX (HARTLEPOOL)

The Northern Echo: Hartlepool striker Luke Molyneux

It was a case of ‘job done’ for Hartlepool as they avoided relegation in their first season back in the Football League and enjoyed lengthy runs in both the FA Cup and Papa John’s Trophy, and Molyneux was their stand-out performer.

The former Sunderland trainee scored 12 goals in all competitions, often appearing a wide-attacking role that enabled him to cut in towards the box. His Trophy goals against Charlton and Rotherham were especially memorable, and Pools will be desperate to hold on to the Bishop Auckland-born 24-year-old this summer.


Substitutes:

Martin Dubravka (Newcastle), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Bailey Wright (Sunderland), Corry Evans (Sunderland), Matt Crooks (Middlesbrough), Marcus Tavernier (Middlesbrough), Macauley Langstaff (Gateshead).