Monthly round-up: Football in the region

When it comes to the month of February, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland have all followed the script of their campaigns so far. Sunderland have continued their dire run of form, Middlesbrough have been gloriously inconsistent, and Newcastle have continued to drop points from winning positions. Here’s the story of February:

Sunderland in focus

February gave Sunderland and Middlesbrough their third and final matchup of the season. Before then, the Black Cats faced Ipswich, Bristol City, Brentford and Bolton. When Sunderland kicked off at home to Ipswich, they were 2 points adrift of safety. A 10-minute period from the visitors at the end of the first half took the game away from the hosts who trailed 2-nil at halftime – and it finished that way.

A trip to playoff side Bristol City meant things weren’t going to get any easier. For the second successive game, Sunderland were seemingly down and out by half time; trailing Lee Johnson’s side 3-nil. An extraordinary revival was completed in added time as Marlon Pack diverted into his own net to make it 3-3. A season defining moment perhaps…?

…It didn’t seem to be that way however, as Sunderland followed up the point at Ashton Gate with a lacklustre display at home to Brentford which saw the visitors ease to a 2-0 win. Going into the game with Bolton at the Macron, Sunderland were 3 points adrift of safety so knew the importance of getting a result. Zac Clough’s goal was enough to edge out the Black Cats and send them to the bottom of the table.

Sunderland’s final game of the month with Middlesbrough, provided the chance to give their fans a much-needed boost after a tough week off the pitch to go with the poor run of results on it. Coleman’s side put in a battling performance in a game which had everything. The game’s first goal came courtesy of youngster Joel Asoro. Straight dismissals for Chelsea loanee Lewis Clarke-Salter and Boro winger Adama Traore reduced both sides to 10 men by half time.

A double from ex-Chelsea striker Patrick Bamford and Grant Leadbitter’s penalty, after Johnny Williams had previously equalised for the Black Cats, meant that Sunderland were trailing 3-2 going into the final quarter of the game. It was Callum McManaman who came up with the answer; his 96th minute strike put an end to their three-match losing streak.

Middlesbrough in focus

Boro’s first game of the month was away to Norwich. A bad day for Pulis’ side who lost 1-0 and had Rudy Gestede dismissed in the first half. The following game provided a good opportunity to get back to winning ways against a Reading side, whose manager Jaap Stam, was coming under increasing pressure. Adama Traore’s 2 goals either side of halftime were enough for all 3 points, despite Chris Martin’s late consolation.

Boro were given a sterner test by promotion chasing Cardiff at the Cardiff City Stadium. It was the Bluebirds who earned a gritty 1-0 win thanks to Sean Morrison’s headed goal. Having fallen down to 9th, and 4 points off the play off places, it was vital Boro bounced back at home to struggling Hull. Gestede put Boro ahead before Evandro levelled going into half time. Patrick Bamford instantly restored Boro’s lead on the stroke of half time before Gestede’s second of the afternoon made sure of the points. Boro’s late derby day frustration, sees them end February in 7th and just two points off Bristol City who occupy the last of the promotion places.

Newcastle in focus

Due to no involvement in the FA Cup, Newcastle had 3 Premier League fixtures during February; 2 of which were trips to potential relegation rivals Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.

Newcastle arrived at Palace buoyed by the Deadline Day arrivals of Martin Dubravka and Islam Slimani. Neither were fit enough to play a part, but Benitez’s lineup did include Kenedy. It was the Brazilian’s corner which found Mo Diame at the back post, who applied a simple finish. Kenedy had a great chance to put Newcastle 2 up but was thwarted by the on-rushing Wayne Hennessey. A soft penalty provided Palace, who’d been unthreatening up to that point, a way back into the game. Luka Milivojevic converted from 12 yards and from then on it was all Palace. Benteke had a great chance to put Palace into the lead, but Ciaran Clark made a great block on the line. Newcastle held on and were relieved to be leaving Selhurst Park with a point.

They then hosted Man United who’s manager Jose Mourinho was yet to register a Premier League win at St James’ Park in his time managing in England. Martin Dubravka deputised between the sticks and was an integral part of a terrific 1-0 win. Dubravka denied Anthony Martial who was put through on goal in the first half, as well as pulling off a sublime save from Michael Carrick’s effort from inside the six-yard box. Despite only registering 3 attempts, the Magpies outran the visitors and were deserving winners, after Matt Ritchie’s first-time effort had put them a goal to the good in the 65th minute.

Newcastle’s final game of the month was to the South Coast to face in-form Bournemouth. In many ways, the first 80 minutes was the perfect away performance. At half time Newcastle were 2-up, courtesy of a brace from Dwight Gayle. Jonjo Shelvey, who’d been controlling the game from midfield, had a guilt-edge chance to finish Bournemouth off. Shelvey put it over the bar and within 90 seconds Newcastle had been pegged back to 2-1. 10 minutes remained for Bournemouth to find an equaliser. It came just before stoppage time, as ex-United player Dan Gosling diverted home Nathan Ake’s cross. Most definitely a case of 2 points dropped for Benitez’s side who now face a tough looking trip to Liverpool.

Words: Caspar de Wesselow