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Page last updated at 05:58 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 06:58 UK

What's gone wrong in the north east?

Alan Shearer, Gareth Southgate and Ricky Sbragia
Shearer, Southgate and Sbragia are all facing relegation

It has been a season to forget in the north east.

Middlesbrough are on the brink of relegation, while Newcastle and Sunderland are also battling to avoid dropping out of the Premier League.

BBC Local Radio's commentators in the region have witnessed the trio's struggles at close quarters and are well placed to analyse their respective predicaments.

Here, they look at what has gone wrong at Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough and explore how things can be turned round.

Nick Barnes, BBC Radio Newcastle's Sunderland AFC commentator

Can you put your finger on what has gone so wrong this season, both for your own club and north east football in general?

Looking at Sunderland, the problems arose from Roy Keane's transfer dealings in the summer.

He bought unwisely - the significant mistakes were El Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda - but then the loan of Djibril Cisse has, with hindsight, also proved to have been a mistake.

The first two players, and latterly Cisse, disrupted the strong team spirit that had been embodied by Sunderland the previous season and Ricky Sbragia, while enjoying a brief honeymoon period, inherited a fractured squad made up of too many individuals and not a squad built for togetherness and graft.

606: DEBATE

Generally speaking, the three north east teams have each suffered from different problems which coincidentally have all collided at the same time.

I don't believe there's a general north east 'disease'. Newcastle's problems are the culmination of several years of rudderless direction from the very top; Middlesbrough's from, much like Sunderland, poor transfer dealings and to a degree an inexperienced manager.

How far should the manager(s) carry the can, or the owners for hiring/firing/keeping faith with their bosses?

In Sunderland's case, Roy Keane clearly has to be held ultimately responsible. Ricky Sbragia inherited the problems. But Niall Quinn can't be blamed as chairman for gambling with Keane - his profile was enormous for the club.

Should the worst happen, is your club capable of sustaining Premier League wages in the Championship, bearing in mind fate of Norwich, Charlton and Saints this season? Would the club implode as a consequence of relegation?

Sunderland have inbuilt relegation clauses in the contracts of all the players which would see their wages cut to sustainable levels in the Championship. Their previous experiences of relegation has ensured they won't make the same mistakes as in the past.

Has there been a highlight this season?

Sunderland's highlight without question was their victory over Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light.

Is your club capable of coming straight back up/move up the league next season?

On both counts, the answer is yes.

Mick Lowes, BBC Radio Newcastle's Newcastle United commentator

Can you put your finger on what has gone so wrong this season, both for your own club and north east football in general?

Difficult to say with regard to the region as a whole. Each of the three have very different identities, but clearly the same basic problem - they haven't won enough games. But I don't think the north east is doing anything worse than, say the north west, where Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn have all survived.

With regard to Newcastle United the answer is simple; too much chopping and changing equals too much turmoil and a lack of direction.

How far should the manager(s) carry the can, or the owners for hiring/firing/keeping faith with their bosses?

In the main, the hiring and firing of managers is a results-driven business - not so at Newcastle United this season. Four different managers (if you include Chris Hughton who had two periods as caretaker) in a season which was never anything but mediocre (at best!).

606: DEBATE

The single biggest factor was the Kevin Keegan fall-out, which should have been handled better/never been allowed to happen. The majority of blame has to be with the club's hierarchy.

Should the worst happen, is your club capable of sustaining Premier League wages? Would the club implode as a consequence of relegation?

It's impossible for Newcastle to sustain their wage bill in the Championship. Of the club's £100m revenue, more than £70m goes on wages.

Relegation would mean an almost complete fire sale of players. Whether the club subsequently implodes remains to be seen and, to a large extent, hinges on whether Alan Shearer is in charge next season.

Has there been a highlight this season?

No.

Is your club capable of coming straight back up/move up the league next season?

Undoubtedly yes, on both counts - with the right man in charge.

Alastair Brownlee, BBC Tees' Middlesbrough commentator

Can you put your finger on what has gone so wrong this season, both for your own club and north-east football in general?

For Middlesbrough the main problem has been a lack of goals.

Afonso Alves was bought for a record Boro transfer fee and has failed to deliver, scoring only four league goals this season.

It's not just Alves, though, who has been disappointing in front of goal - the team has scored just 27 goals going into the final match which is not good enough.

FOOTBALL BLOG
BBC Sport's Simon Austin

When you add to the lack of goals a run of 11 successive defeats away from home, which set a club record going back to the formation of the Boro in 1876, it's not hard to see why we are facing relegation.

At Newcastle there is a complete lack of stability. When Boro played at St James' Park recently Alan Shearer was the eighth Newcastle boss that Gareth Southgate had faced since he was appointed in 2006.

Meanwhile at Sunderland, the problem is the same as Boro, a lack of goals costing the club dearly.

How far should the manager(s) carry the can, or the owners for hiring/firing/keeping faith with their bosses?

Steve Gibson is a very loyal chairman and has backed Southgate. True, there is not the financial muscle that we saw in 1996 when the likes of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli came to the Riverside and Gareth has had to reduce the age and size of the squad.

But ultimately the manager must look at whether he has been able to get the best from a group of players that should be much higher than second bottom.

Should the worst happen, is your club capable of sustaining Premier League wages? Will the club implode as a consequence of relegation?

Boro will certainly not implode; there is a great academy that produces players capable of playing first-team football and as long as Steve Gibson continues to support the club, and there is no sign that he will not, the club will survive.

606: DEBATE

Relegation will certainly be a blow but the club have I am sure already put in place plans.

Has there been a highlight this season?

Beating Liverpool 2-0 at the Riverside on 28 February was a great performance. When Tuncay scored the second I thought the roof would lift off the stadium and that the victory would be the springboard to safety.

Is your club capable of coming straight back up/move up the league next season?

The club is capable of coming back, providing the right type of players are bought in the summer to compliment the young talent already there.

There will inevitably be some departures but will the money be spent wisely? That is the key.



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see also
Boro must show pride - Southgate
15 May 09 |  Middlesbrough
West Ham v Middlesbrough
21 May 09 |  Premier League
Shearer relying on last-day drama
16 May 09 |  Premier League
Aston Villa v Newcastle
21 May 09 |  Premier League
Sbragia focused on last-day test
19 May 09 |  Premier League
Sunderland v Chelsea
21 May 09 |  Premier League


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