Real chance for Sunderland and Middlesbrough to thrive in the Premier League
Rivalries aside, it was crucial for the North East to have at least two representatives in the Premier League next season.
Sunderland’s late escape from relegation and Middlesbrough's long awaited promotion from the Championship, means that teams located in the bottom half of the country will still need
Sat-Navs which reach further north than Manchester next campaign.
Burnley and Hull’s promotions from the second tier will also alter that and reinvigorate Premier League football in Lancashire and Yorkshire, but the fact of the matter is that the North
East was in real trouble of being cut adrift altogether.
It is clear that there’s been a huge shift in power towards football clubs located in the south of the country in the past few years, as clubs like Blackburn, Bolton and Leeds have been replaced by the likes of Watford, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.
The apparent lures of living in or near London with all its economic muscle and numerous transport links have made clubs near or in the area more attractive propositions for both owners and players.
The knock on effect has caused the North East’s major clubs to struggle, with Sunderland and Newcastle having to scrap at the bottom of the table while Boro have been caught in the Championship’s strangle hold for the last seven years.
Newcastle’s relegation from the Premier League showed just how hard they have fallen since the days of Alan Shearer, when Kevin Keegan was at the helm.
The Magpies will need to hope that they bounce back soon due to the financial hits that relegation can cause and the vast amounts now associated with top flight football. However, under Rafa Benitez they will be strong favourites to go straight back up.
As for Sunderland and Boro, they have prevented the North East from becoming exiled from England’s elite.
The Black Cat’s survival should give them hope that under Sam Allardyce - a proven Premier League manager - they can finally build a side capable of establishing themselves as a potent top flight side, rather than one which always survives by the skin of their teeth year-on-year.
January recruits Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Koné were all instant successes and evidence that a bit of nous and homework in the transfer market can bring its rewards.
With a better set-up in place there should now be more belief that, with some decent recruitment, they can give the league a real go next year, and banish their reputation as the team which always scrapes out of jail.
In Boro’s case this was the year they really needed to break free from the clutches of the Championship.
Next year the second tier is likely to be even stronger with the likes of Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa all dropping down, and the money that chairman Steve Gibson spent this campaign would have been unlikely be re-invested to the same extent if the Teessiders had remained in the Championship.
Gibson, who is a fan and resident of the town as well as chairman, has already promised to ‘have a good go’ in the Premier League next season.
In Aitor Karanka they have an astute manager who will prioritise his defence and always give his side a chance in games.
The Spaniard has showed that there is an edge to him following his reported bust up earlier this season, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are times at the top level where you need to be ruthless and Karanka has certainly showed that he won’t stand for any flack.
For both clubs there now appears a real possibility for them to establish themselves as regular players in the top flight - both on and off the field.
Middlesbrough have plans to spend £5million on the Riverside to prepare the stadium for Premier League football next campaign, while Sunderland will have profited financially from nine straight years in the top flight.
So is there now a chance for the North East clubs to buck the recent trend and put aside their recent struggles? There is certainly hope again.
Even Newcastle, despite relegation, have been rejuvenated by the arrival of Benitez.
If the much-loved Spaniard wins promotion at the first time of asking, there could be a real possibility of building something big there once again.
The three major clubs in the North East are some of the best supported in the country and their fans have clearly deserved better in recent times.
At least for two of them, their supporters can enjoy Premier League football next year and there appears to be a sense of ambition rather than just an instinct to survive.