A sporting view 

Former Newcastle United and Sunderland player Steve Harper looks at how our local clubs are progressing this season as they head into the new year

December brings the most hectic fixture schedule of the season and by Boxing Day we’ll officially be in the second half of the 2017/18 football season.

After a bright start to their campaign, the harsh reality of the Premier League has kicked in for Newcastle United.

A run of several successive defeats – including a demoralising 3-0 home defeat to Watford – showed the early season run had simply papered over the cracks of a very honest, hardworking squad, which lacks the quality to match that of manager Rafa Benitez.

The ‘elephant in the room’ remains the takeover and the potential timing of it. If the poor run has Newcastle sitting around the relegation zone by mid-December, will the interested party proceed at the asking price when relegation is a realpossibility? Will Mike Ashley accept a ‘relegation clause’? And if a takeover doesn’t materialise, will Mike Ashley invest to ensure their survival?

These are the matters that need to be addressed as soon as possible to allow the club the best possible chance to remain in the Premier League.

The appointment of Chris Coleman is a real coup for Sunderland. They’ve been in freefall since the departure of Sam Allardyce almost 18 months ago and the years of mismanagement in the corridors of power has resulted in a club appearing hell-bent on self-destruction. The fans are rightly fed up with what’s been served up for the last few years, however the appointment of Coleman has given them hope.

His recent successes with Wales will hopefully allow him the time required to turn the club around, and his win at Burton Albion gives them a starting point. He’s also been making the right noises to get the fans back onside. Put right the issue of winning at home and they can climb the table towards survival.

Middlesbrough’s inability to beat anyone in the top half of the table is proving their biggest obstacle to ‘smashing the Championship’ as predicted in the summer by owner Steve Gibson. Having backed Garry Monk to the tune of over £40 million, the owner would’ve expected a bit more at this stage of the season; however, despite these early season problems, it’s too early to panic. Consistency is the key to getting out of the Championship and Middlesbrough are yet to find any as a result of too many individual errors. A team always manages to find some form late in the season to get them into the automatic promotion shake-up and Middlesbrough fans will be hoping that this year its them.

Meanwhile, Gateshead and Hartlepool both remain in mid-table in the National League with the former making good progress under Newcastle old boy, Steve Watson. Defensively sound and playing attractive football, Gateshead are making good progress as they climb up the table.

Hartlepool have experienced a difficult start to life in the National League and seem to take one step forwards then one step backwards. Having been pressured into changing formation recently they’ve stumbled but they’re still getting very impressive home crowds, and like Gateshead can hopefully get into the play-off picture in the New Year.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Steve

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