What a difference a year makes... my North-East end of season awards
What a contrast from the end of last season.
A year ago the North-East went into the last games of the season fretting. Would Sunderland or Newcastle be relegated with Middlesbrough? Was there any realistic contender to be crowned Player of the Year in such miserable circumstances?
Would Newcastle go under, have a new owner, appoint Alan Shearer as boss? Who would take over as boss of Sunderland? Would Gareth Southgate survive? Negative questions borne out of a season of struggle.
This time around we've seen Newcastle promoted as champions with an impressive collective effort that has restored pride and refreshed optimism on Tyneside.
And Sunderland are pushing for a top ten finish which which would represent mission accomplished and an impressive debut season for boss Steve Bruce.
Only the ups and down at Middlesbrough have been a let-down, but even they came close to sneaking into the play-offs despite a disappointing season caused by Southgate's ill-timed sacking.
But with virtually all the crucial issues decided up here, it is time to run through some awards for the men who have lifted ourspirits by kicking a ball around.
Player of the Year
Darren Bent: To score 24 goals in your first season, and finish behind Wayne Rooney as the top English striker, is a fantastic achievement. To do it in a team that struggled for three months without a win is extra special. But Bent has done more than score goals. He's come to the North-East from London, a move many players have shunned fearing the weather, men in flat caps, undecipherable accents, dragons or whatever stereotype. And he's embraced his club, built a fan-base using Twitter, explored the region, made it his home, loved the cities, the beaches and the countryside. Visited the Angel of the North even. Now it would be good if Fabio Capello lived up to his promise to pick in-form players and took Bent to the World Cup.
Player of the Year Runner-up:
Kevin Nolan: His role in galvanising Newcastle in a time of crisis behind the scenes last summer can't be overestimated. Sharing a pint with his dad and discussing the aftermath of relegation he realised the only way to go was to put right the wrongs. He, aided by others like Steve Harper, Alan Smith and Nicky Butt, made sure the men who stayed in Toon were on a mission, united, full of team spirit, supporting Chris Hughton in a powerful alliance. Then on the pitch Nolan proceeded to score 18 goals. On and off the pitch his influence on reviving a club has been huge.
Mentioned in dispatches:
Craig Gordon for keeping Sunderland in games when the going got tough. Jonas Gutierrez for his perpetual motion and being a constant, vital outlet for the defence. Has anyone run further this season? Jose Enrique has looked a Premier League player. Steve Harper for setting a clean sheet record with his defence. Adam Johnson carried Boro until he left for Manchester City.
Young player of the Year:
Jordan Henderson: Steve Bruce took more phone calls from rival bosses trying to sign him on loan last summer than any other player. He rejected the advances and then realised what the fuss was about. "He grabbed me immediately with his performances in training." Then, when Henderson was given his chance in the first team, he grabbed that too. He is energetic, tough, can cross a ball, pick a pass and is an England player in the making.
Andy Carroll: He's proved a real handful as Newcastle's target-man, and chipped in with 19 goals, a cracking return. At times he is unplayable in the air and has a real knack of rising above defences to head home set-pieces. But one obvious blight was the incident with Steven Taylor that left his team-mate with a broken jaw - the incident that 'never happened'. If Carroll settles down and nurtures his potential he will have a big impact in the Premier League. Thankfully he and Taylor were shoulder to shoulder celebrating the Championship title on Saturday.
You would think the Carroll bust-up never happened in Newcastle's fairytale world
Man of the Year:
Chris Hughton: Taking charge of Newcastle last August looked an impossible job. With diligence, modesty, negotiation, collaboration with his players and in a manner more low key than any who came before him, Hughton built a winning outfit. Not that you'll ever see him taking individual credit for his achievements.
Goal/moment of the Season:
Darren Bent's beach ball goal against Liverpool. We'll never see anything like it again. Showing amazing eyesight, Bent spotted a beach ball in front of Pepe Reina. With pinpoint accuracy he decided to volley his shot against it, rebounding the ball one way into the net, and the beach-ball the other way, baffling Reina. It was highlighted as a freak event and a fluke that shouldn't have stood. But all Sunderland fans know Bent meant it. The beach ball is now an exhibit in the National Football Museum.
Goal of the Season runner-up:
Jonas Gutierrez crashed one in off the bar against Blackpool. Great goal, daft celebration. Gutierrez played 50 games with a Spiderman mask down his underpants hoping to whip it out and entertain with his trademark celebration. He forgot it the first time he scored this season, but not against Blackpool. Phew. In more ways than one.
Boob of the Season:
Middlesbrough sacking Gareth Southgate at midnight after his side had beaten Derby. And sat within a couple of points of the top two. Would Southgate have got Boro to the play-offs? We'll never know. But changing bosses in October was madness.
Match(es) of the Year:
Sunderland 3-1 Spurs. Could have been 10-5. Sunderland's best show since beating Chelsea 4-1 in the Peter Reid days. Bent scored twice but could have had six, against Harry Redknapp, the man who sold him.
Newcastle 6-1 Cardiff. A rare Friday night game in February, and the magnitude of the victory convinced Newcastle, players and fans, they were going up.