We continue our look at the six Championship Regional Winner markets we are offering ahead of the 2022/23 season, this time profiling the three sides battling it out to be the Top North East Club.
In Chris Wilder, Middlesbrough possess a manager with proven Championship pedigree, so it is little wonder they are amongst the favourites to make a return to the big time this season.
The former Sheffield United boss made a return to management in the North East last November, with the club opting to wield the axe on Neil Warnock after Boro failed to show any real sign of sustaining a targeted play-off push.
The Yorkshireman’s arrival heralded a dramatic upturn in fortunes however, winning seven of his opening 11 games at the helm and clearly managing to get a tune out of a squad that had been seriously underperforming.
Whilst their impressive form did tail-off to a degree during the latter stages of the term, they still managed to take the race for a top six finish to a dramatic final day, before eventually missing out to Luton Town and having to settle for seventh place.
Many expect them to go at least one step further in 2022/23, and the impressive additions of Wolves’ exciting attacker Ryan Giles and the hugely sought after Irishman Darragh Lenihan will only serve to enhance their chances of doing so.
Consolidation back in the Championship has to be the main topic of agenda for Sunderland this season after Alex Neil finally ended the club’s four-year-long exile from the second-tier.
The former Norwich City boss masterminded promotion in his first campaign in charge, guiding his side through the rigours of the end of season play-offs courtesy of a two-legged victory over Sheffield Wednesday and a surprisingly routine 2-0 triumph over Wycombe Wanderers, at Wembley.
As with most newly-promoted clubs, re-establishing themselves at this level will undoubtedly be their priority, however, with Sunderland you just never know – and it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if they were to maintain their upward trajectory yet further.
With a talented and young group of players at Neil’s disposal you get the impression that the opening few months of the campaign will be absolutely key to Sunderland’s end of season fortunes.
If they can acclimatise themselves quickly enough then they may be the surprise package, but if they struggle to hit the ground running and find themselves embroiled in a battle towards the lower echelons of the league, that lack of experience could be telling.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Hull City make an absolute mockery of their 5/1 outsider tagging amongst this group of clubs challenging to be crowned kings of the North East.
It seems an age since the Tigers displayed the same kind of ambition as they have throughout the current transfer window – already raising eyebrows with the coveted captures of the likes of Jean Michel-Seri and Turkish star Ozan Tufan.
The aforementioned pair are just two of a large number of players to have been brought into the club from the continent this summer, with boss Shota Arveladze utilising his international connections to add spice and excitement to the Humber side.
Could such a bold and continental approach fall flat on its face come the end of the campaign? Definitely. But, is there also a chance that they could prevail victorious in this three-team ‘Regional Winner’ market? Absolutely!
And that is despite the blow of losing the services of star-man Keane Lewis-Potter to Brentford…
By Mark Mothershaw