THE football season has kicked off and the North-East is rife with rumours, hopes and a fair few doubts.
After seeing years of underachieving in this corner of the world, experienced journalist GAVIN LEDWITH will be giving his no-nonsense verdict on our region’s ‘big four’ throughout the campaign.
Here’s what he expects of those wearing red, white, black and blue in the coming months:
AND so the madness begins.
The new Football League season was less than 48 hours old when the proverbial managerial axe was ruthlessly wielded for the first time in what will undoubtedly be another bloody campaign.
Apparently Huddersfield Town’s decision to part company with Mark Robins is no knee-jerk matter and dates back to a dreadful post-Christmas run.
Why then give the same Robins the best part of £500,000 to spend on a new player last week if he was just days away from receiving his P45?
Such a cavalier attitude to a doomed manager’s meddlings in the transfer market, of course, would never be displayed here in the North-East.
Newcastle United, for instance, had the decency to wait two unbeaten games at the start of the 1998-99 season before dismissing Kenny Dalglish after a £16m summer spending spree.
IF only Hartlepool United had a fraction of the £16m largely frittered away by Dalglish then they would be in with a shout of reaching the League Two play-offs.
As things stand, despite four new signings last week, they appear to be lacking enough goals to establish a genuine promotion challenge.
Sure, Marlon Harewood will batter the odd centre-half and Luke James, should he stay, will create opportunities for both himself and his colleagues with his trickery.
But do Colin Cooper’s squad possess anyone to convert whatever chances are created on a regular basis?
Smaller clubs such as Morecambe and AFC Wimbledon have Jack Redshaw and Matt Tubbs respectively.
Promotion favourites Bury, in town this weekend, have resigned that Peter Pan of the lower leagues, Ryan Lowe.
Can Pools match them and find a poacher to turn last season’s defeats into draws and draws into victories?
Is ex-Newcastle and Sunderland finisher Michael Chopra - not without his personal demons, I accept - perhaps worth a short-term deal following his release from Blackpool?
A NARROW 1-0 opening day defeat at Stevenage is no reason for Pools fans to panic just yet.
Nor should Middlesbrough supporters get too excited after their team’s Championship season started with a 2-0 home win against Birmingham City.
Saturday’s victory was a good job well done against poor opposition.
The same description may even be quickly repeated after trips to Oldham Athletic in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday and this weekend’s televised date at Leeds United.
Far sterner tests lie further ahead before we know for certain if Aitor Karanka’s squad have the depth to cope with the inevitable onset of injuries and suspensions.
AS for Premier League under-achievers Newcastle United and Sunderland, it usually pays to wait until the August transfer window is firmly shut before attempting to predict how their seasons will pan out.
Even then Sunderland have form for flogging their star striker, one Asamoah Gyan in 2011, after the deadline has passed.
My early hunch though is that the likes of Aston Villa, Burnley, Southampton, West Brom and West Ham have far more to worry about than the North-East pair.
Hull too may struggle if they reach the group stages of the Europa League and have to cope with that Thursday-Sunday fixture conundrum.
Midtable mediocrity is set to berth on the banks of both the Tyne and Wear.