September 8, 2016
Steve Harper reflects on his latest career moves and what his expectations are of the region’s sports clubs this season
It’s been a while since I’ve done a column and but I felt it was a good time to round up an eventful start to the football season, both personally and throughout the region’s teams.
After 23 years on the roller-coaster of being a professional footballer, the opportunity to retire and return to Newcastle United Academy as its goalkeeper coach, as well as some media work and working for the Premier League, were things I couldn’t resist.
The impact Rafa Benitez has had in his short term at Newcastle United has been significant – not just in the most recent results and the big changes he has made across the playing staff, but also the behind the scenes work to bring back the feel-good factor among the club’s supporters.
This will be a season of hopefully a lot more highs than lows in the Championship – which can be relentless – and will hopefully result in the club bouncing back into the Premier League at the first opportunity.
My short time at Sunderland coincided with a real upturn in their form towards the end of the season. However, all of that momentum the club had been looking to carry forward into this Premier League season was hamstrung by the loss of Sam Allardyce to the England job.
I do feel that if Sam had stayed and been able to recruit well, Sunderland would have comfortably finished in the top 12 this season.
Recruiting a manager in David Moyes, who was given the time to build Everton into a regular top eight Premier League side, may prove to be a shrewd move as long as he’s given the backing needed to build a bigger and better quality squad than last season.
In Jermain Defoe, Sunderland has one of the best in the business but with the departures of DeAndre Yedlin, Younes Kaboul and speculation around Lamine Kone, they could well be without three of the back four who did so well at the end of last season.
There was no shame in Sunderland losing at Man City on the opening day but the loss to Middlesbrough highlighted just how light they are in important areas and the end of the transfer window will be crucial in Sunderland’s battle to beat the drop.
As for Middlesbrough, a good point on the opening day was followed up by an impressive win at Sunderland on the second weekend.
The team were excellent for the first hour and I was very impressed by Middlesbrough’s passing and movement, and the amount of forward runners they had showed real intent.
The partnership of Gaston Ramirez and Alvaro Negredo could be key to their survival in the Premier League.
Away from football, I was disappointed to read that Durham CCC is going to be losing Mark Stoneman from its ranks for next season.
As an impressive opening batsman who’s played a key role in Durham’s success in the last few years, it is always very disappointing whenever you see a homegrown player moving away from the area. Tough times may be ahead for the region’s First Class cricket club. We’ll all need to get behind the club this season.
Finally, congratulations to a magnificent Team GB display at the Olympics. I’m sure, like me, you watched plenty of sports you only watch every four years but still got caught up in the emotion of seeing everyone strive to win a gold medal for their country.