It's not been a great season for the North of England in the Premier League. Hull, Sunderland and Burnley are all in the relegation mix and it looks like being a London dominated top two for the first time in a while.
It's the North-East in particular that's an absolute shambles though. Newcastle fans are in open revolt against their ownership, while the team have lost seven on the bounce in the league. Sunderland are deep in the relegation battle that the Magpies seem to have just about avoided and we'll get to their off-field issues in a bit.
Newcastle first though. About as inconsistent as it's possible to get in the last handful of years, veering wildly between relegation, instant promotion, 5th place in the Premier League and then straight down to 16th the next season.
Then again, that's the exact kind of performance you'd expect from a team who routinely sell their best players with a smile and a wave, then bring in cut-price replacements. Sometimes it works. Most of the time it doesn't.
At St James' Park, success brings a summer exodus of the players who have put themselves in the limelight. A poor season, on the other hand, brings an exodus of players 'too good' to play in a team playing that badly. Even when Newcastle win, they lose. When Newcastle lose, they lose even harder.
A lot of the Magpies' misfortune has been blamed - rightly or wrongly - on Alan Pardew. To be fair, he's an easy target, with his habit of scuffling with players and officials and the absolute drivel he comes out with in press conferences. Thing is though, he's gone now and the situation looks worse than ever. Pardew, meanwhile, has led his new club Crystal Palace on a run of great form that's seen them leapfrog Newcastle and challenge for the top half of the table.
The club's making money - a profit of nearly £19m for 2013/14 - but none of that's being shown on the pitch. With safety almost assured for this season, next term could define Mike Ashley's reign as owner of the club. Another season as poor as this would be sure to see him seek to sell the club, if it wasn't for his overwhelming stubbornness.
Newcastle, then, stand on the edge of a precipice. But their situation is fairly benign when compared with their most fierce rivals - in the drop zone and showing few signs of getting out of it.
The arrival of Dick Advocaat as manager did little to turn the tide of results, with Jermaine Defoe's magical goal against Newcastle providing the only league win since January. And while meaning no disrespect to those involved...it was Newcastle. That team could lose a match against 11 training dummies right now - it basically doesn't count.
If it wasn't for the staggering amount of dreadful teams at the bottom of the Premier League, Sunderland could already be down. Even as it is, they've finally slipped into the relegation zone and they're getting desperate. How desperate? Well, Adam Johnson travelled to Stoke as part of the squad, a couple of days after being charged with grooming a 15-year-old girl.
Johnson wasn't a part of the matchday 18-man squad, but the fact that he was even considered shows the depth of the muddled thinking within the Stadium of Light.
I've spent quite a bit of time thinking over the decision since the weekend, and not a single good reason has reared its head. Johnson's sheer presence is a massive distraction, which is surely the last thing that the squad need at a time like this. More media scrutiny and pressure? No thanks.
If he's not even going to play, then it makes even less sense to bring him along. The kind of offences that Johnson's been charged with would, in any sane world, see him suspended by his employer until the outcome of the investigation was clear. 'Innocent until proven guilty' aside, how on earth is he expected to do his job properly with this hanging over him?
Sunderland have been bumping along the bottom of the league for years now, just about staying afloat. This season might be a step too far. In a couple of season's time, at this rate, we may even see a Tyne-Wear derby in the Championship.
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