Season 2012 – 2013 should be a big one for the North East’s top clubs.
Middlesbrough will be looking for a promotion push on the back of this season of stabilisation.
A near miss in the play offs will want to be put to the back of their minds and a top six finish should be the minimum aim for a team that faded badly towards the end of the season just gone.
They will see themselves as one of the favourites for the Championship title, and should be looking at being one of the pacesetters early on and getting off to a good start come August.
Newcastle meanwhile will have desires on the top four of the top flight come next season. They will strengthen in preparation for a two pronged attack on the Europa League and the Premier League.
Whether they will be able to cope will be the main question on the Toon fans lips, but they will be confident in digging up some more unproven gems, and turning them into stars as they have this past season, and they will provide good entertainment and goals in both competitions. They have begun that already by signing Romain Amalfitano on a free transfer.
This coming season on Tyneside should be anything but dull.
What will be the case over the water at Sunderland though? This will be Martin O’Neill’s first full season, and with a full pre-season and the chance to bring his own players in, whilst reinvigorating what should have been a decent squad under Steve Bruce, Sunderland may now start living up to their potential.
An area that astute observers will agree that needs addressing is the attack.
The situation surrounding record signing Asamoah Gyan and whether he will return from his loan spell from Al Ain has still not been resolved.
On his day, Gyan is a match winner but having played for a season in a league much less demanding than the Premier League, he may well not be the same standard of player Sunderland originally signed. Martin O’Neill knows he needs strikers, but whether he sees the Ghanaian star as the answer will be doubtful.
Sunderland’s predominately home nations based squad will need some filling out if they are to mount any sort of serious challenge on the top end of the table, and whether the changes at Boardroom level, with Niall Quinn having exited earlier this year, will have a positive influence is again an unknown.
Will owner and now chairman Ellis Short make funds available for signings to challenge for where they want to be?
The appointment of O’Neill was seen as something of a coup for Sunderland, but he himself said the honeymoon period he would have would be short lived.
This is now well and truly over, and as he starts to put his stamp on the squad, expectations will start to rise.
The success that Newcastle have had in the last season will have hit home hardest all on Wearside, and there will be a huge desire to close the gap which has appeared between the two clubs.
Ever since Sunderland moved into the Stadium of Light, they have been threatening to break into the top end of the division, break into Europe, win a cup, but season after season they have flattered to deceive.
Now must be seen as the time for them to kick on and start mixing it with the big clubs on a regular basis.
It will not be easy though. The number of sides surrounding them who will have aspirations on a similar scale to Sunderland’s is growing, and the quality of these sides is also ever improving.
Clubs in the middle of the table have large amounts of money available, and Sunderland will have to at least match, and probably outspend their rivals to finish above them this time next year.
With one of the best regarded British managers on board, money available and the foundations set after five successive seasons in the top division, now is the time for Sunderland to really make a case of breaking into the upper echelons of the division.
If this is not the season they plan to do this, Ellis Short will start feeling the descent of the locals, who may feel that he isn’t after all the man to run their club.
image: © vagueonthehow