Sporting view: Steve Harper

The ex-Newcastle United goalkeeper looks at the tough job ahead for Sam Allardyce (despite Sunderland’s triumph in the Tyne-Wear derby) Newcastle United’s frustrating run of results, and why Middlesbrough must improve its away record to have any chance of returning to top flight football.

The derby win for Sunderland offered them only brief respite from their troubles in the relegation zone since the arrival of ‘Big Sam’.

Going on to a heavy 6-2 defeat at Everton and a disappointing 0-1 home loss to Southampton shows that Sam Allardyce will need time to put his own stamp on the squad.

Sam ventured to Newcastle United in 2007 and made wholesale changes not only to the playing personnel but to the backroom staff.

This didn’t go down too well with some of the more established members of the squad (not me, I might add!) which led to a difficult dressing room and, after a poor run of results in the run up to Christmas, ultimately – and, I feel, a little prematurely – cost him his job.

So far Sam hasn’t done the same at Sunderland. His focus will be picking up as many points as possible at the Stadium of Light, especially given the tough run of away fixtures ahead with visits to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City still to come in 2015.

North of the river, the recent away win at Bournemouth for Newcastle United highlighted just what an unpredictable game football can be.

Decent performances against Chelsea and Stoke, along with 45-minute displays at Man City and Sunderland, failed to produce much-needed wins. But a below-par display on the south coast against Bournemouth and a man of the match display by Rob Elliot in difficult conditions for a goalkeeper, along with a fine Ayoze Perez finish, meant a long but rewarding trip home for the Geordie faithful.

Given the fact that both of our top two teams will no doubt draw eight or nine games over the course of the season, the old ‘ten wins to stay up’ adage means that both clubs still have a long way to go.

On Teesside, Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough continue to be very strong at home and also defensively sound. However, the team’s away form will ultimately dictate whether they earn a share of the tens of millions on offer from the new television deal if they are to join the top table next season.

Steve Harper
Steve made 277 appearances for six professional football clubs. He is also a qualified coach and referee and a regular pundit on BBC 5Live. He co-owns Oddballs Apparel Limited. www.myoddballs.com
@steveharper37

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