Sporting view 

March 4, 2018

Ex-Newcastle and Sunderland footballer, Steve Harper, reflects on the plight of our region’s professional football clubs as we head towards the business end of the season

“We never used to like you. Oh, wait no, that’s Steven Taylor – you’ve always been ok!”

These were the amusing first words of Sunderland owner Ellis Short to me after being introduced to him by the Sunderland press officer in the tunnel after a 3-0 home victory over Everton that sealed another ‘down to the wire’ Premier League survival for the club. With a celebratory drink in hand he was bigger than expected and perhaps more polite too, having heard about his previous exchange in the very same tunnel with Alan Pardew.

His popularity then would be miles apart from where it is at present. Seemingly doomed by the years of mismanagement and poor appointments of the wrong people to positions they aren’t qualified for, has it finally caught up the club despite the best efforts of a fine manager in Chris Coleman?

The surprising slow start by Tony Pulis has left Middlesbrough in a group of five clubs competing for just one play-off place, unless they can put a fantastic run together. Every year there seems to be one team that emerges with an impressive late run and they must hope it’s their turn, otherwise they need to begin planning an assault on promotion next season.

Having recently watched them against Hull, the Pulis style of football saw dissenting voices in the crowd despite a 3-1 victory. This for a manager who was brought in, not to play ‘attractive football’, but simply to get them out of the Championship as soon as possible. The loss of Gestede for the rest of the season to injury is a blow, but not as big a blow as the recent four-game ban (subject to appeal at time of press) for a second red card of the season for the in-form and revitalised Adama Traore.

Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle must continue to have a points total outweighing their games played to avoid a nail-biting finish to the season. A hard-fought, impressive win against Manchester United saw the fans at their best and this was very nearly followed up with an away win at Bournemouth which would’ve given them real momentum as they near the end of their first season back in the top flight.

Away games at Liverpool and Spurs will prove tough in March and this puts increasing pressure on pivotal home games against Huddersfield and Southampton, which are fixtures they’ve struggled to win this season when under real pressure to do so.

It will be an impressive achievement to keep this squad in the Premier League but they’re certainly trying to do it the hard way.

Another of my old clubs, Hartlepool United, has sacked yet another manager. I’ve been linked with the post myself in the past but their turnover of managers is ridiculous. They’ve had far too many in recent years and they can’t all be poor managers. It’s yet another example of a club not being set up in the right way to be able to succeed. Let’s hope they can secure their survival and stay in the National League whilst securing new owners along the way.

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