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It only takes a minute...

By Mark Douglas on May 24, 11 10:21 AM


AFTER 38 games, roughly 57 hours of football (give or take some chunks of injury time) and a barrel load of blood, sweat and tears, how remarkable that in the end it all came down to the last 60 seconds of the season.

Early Cup exits combined with European dreams frittering away in mid-March meant the battle for regional bragging rites became the sole focus for Sunderland and Newcastle as the campaign wound to a less-than-compelling conclusion.

For four weeks or so it had seemed like 'top dog' status would be residing at St James' Park - a belief reflected by some increrasingly bullish statements from Newcastle players and staff - only for a half hour collapse and an injury time leveller to swing supremacy back to Wearside right at the death.

And how significant that Somen Tchoyi header might end up being in the long run. £2.6million prize money isn't to be sniffed at with a transfer window looming but more than that it enables Steve Bruce to claim his season's mission was accomplished while simultaneously deflating some of the growing feelgood factor at St James' Park.

Granted, that is not especially damaging to a Newcastle manager beginning to connect with the club's core support but it is potentially priceless for Bruce, who has seen his managerial acumen placed under intense scrutiny of late.

Personally, I think 'top dog' status this season is a shade inconsequential. The Tyne-Wear rivalry is a ferocious one but this North East argument becomes pretty irrelevant when you consider the diverging aims of the two clubs at the start of the season.

For Newcastle this was a transitional campaign, all about establishing the club back in the big time, while at Sunderland it was about moving the project forward. Funds have been lavished on Wearside to bridge the gap between yo-yo club and top flight force so really, the odds were always stacked in the Black Cats favour.

That is not to take anything away from Bruce's achievement. Sunderland have notched their best finish in a decade and broken into the top ten - no mean feat considering where they were when Roy Keane departed.

But for Newcastle, too, this season has been uplifting. Some incredible individual performances lit up Tyneside while the fierce unity forged in the fires of the Championship ensured they were always able to pull a result out of the bag when they needed to. Away form - when the team too often went missing - was to cost them.

My personal belief is that if Sunderland had held onto Darren Bent and Newcastle to Andy Carroll we could have been toasting Europa League football (if anyone really drinks to the prospect of Thursday nights on Channel 5 anymore).

And if there had been a modicum of investment in either squad rather than loan punts, momentum really would have been back in the North East heading into the summer. Granted, there was a lucky escape in the David Bentley chase but Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge and Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia were both there for the taking in January.

Let's hope we're not bemoaning more missed opportunities come August.

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