ONLY in the North East could the team of the season include a Chelsea player, a Tottenham player and a midfielder playing at right-back.
Welcome to season 2012/13 – where the 13 really was unlucky for some. Or all of us if you consider the form across every team at the turn of the year.
Boro barely won, Hartlepool sunk without a trace after a brief flurry of excitement while Newcastle and Sunderland both careered towards the drop zone.
Carlisle flirted with the drop before ending in mid-table. That was about the best of a bad bunch.
So picking an XI to represent us wasn’t easy. The fact that it includes four players from a team that finished 17th in the Premier League – and might have included another if we had been kind on Jack Colback – says it all about the lack of achievement elsewhere.
Picking a boss was particularly hard. None really stood out and while Paolo Di Canio’s short stay at Sunderland probably saved the Black Cats’ Premier League life, there was an element of taking the easier option by plumping for Martin Gray, whose Darlington side have been the feelgood story of the season.
We must hope for more next season – and that all 11 are actually playing for our clubs.
GOALKEEPER: Simon Mignolet
On account of one or two unkind words about Sunderland since leaving, Steve Bruce can be assured of a hot reception at the Stadium of Light when he returns with Hull next season. Perhaps it is time for a reconciliation given the legacy he bequeathed the club before it all went horribly wrong.
Sunderland haven’t spent wisely over the last few years, but Mignolet is a gem and this year Sunderland’s crown jewel became the most coveted goalkeeper in England. Brave, agile and wise beyond his years, he made saves that saved points for the Black Cats.
He seems like a man of his word, too, so he will probably give Sunderland another year – provided they can give him the platform to become Belgium’s number one in World Cup year.
RIGHT-BACK: Craig Gardner
The team of the year’s problem spot. The candidates are all good players: Danny Simpson, Mathieu Debuchy and Justin Hoyte. But have any of them really grabbed you with their form? Despite his end-of-season red mist, Gardner gets the nod.
He was committed, scored goals and didn’t disappear despite some troublesome days for the Black Cats. It says it all about the dearth of options that he actually prefers playing as a midfielder.
CENTRE-BACK: John O’Shea
It is impossible to ignore Mr Consistent for Sunderland who was the captain they needed when the chips were down.
If it was an awful season for the Black Cats, they actually defended pretty well as a whole and O’Shea was pivotal. Don’t forget his goal against Stoke, which did so much to reverse the negative momentum that was building after Gardner got himself stupidly sent off.
CENTRE-BACK: Steven Taylor
Fabricio Coloccini was Newcastle’s outstanding defender and arguably saved their season when he came back.
But his contribution was controversial, and his January transfer request rocked the entire club.
Taylor gets the nod instead. Forget the final few weeks, when things seemed to go awry. It was a year when he earned England recognition and played more games than he had done for a long while. Next year is a big one for him.
LEFT-BACK: Danny Rose
Rose arrived on Wearside as a jobbing left-back who couldn’t get a game for Tottenham and left it as one of the most coveted full-backs in the Premier League.
It was a deserved transformation for a player as adept at going forward and attacking as he did defending. The respect for him on the terraces seemed to be pretty mutual as well: even in a season of struggle he said he was having the time of his life on Wearside.
Unfortunately, it all means Sunderland face a major battle to bring him back next year.
RIGHT-MIDFIELD: Sylvain Marveaux
It has been a strange Newcastle career for Marveaux, whose injury-blighted first season left him with ground to catch up this term.
Anyone who saw him sprinting down the right for United will agree that he managed to do that with performances of the sort of creativity and invention that was so rarely witnessed at St James’ Park after the turn of the year. Added much-needed width, too.
CENTRE-MIDFIELD: Grant Leadbitter
It is easier to list what went right at Middlesbrough since the turn of the year than the myriad things that went off-kilter in 2013. Leadbitter would be one: his tigerish, all-action displays illustrating just what a coup it was when Tony Mowbray persuaded him to come back to the North East last summer.
If they are to put things right this year, Leadbitter will be at the centre of things.
CENTRE-MIDFIELD: Yohan Cabaye
A strange old campaign for Cabaye, who hit the heights at times despite admitting to suffering from a collapse in confidence over the summer and poor fitness in the New Year.
In between all that he was occasionally the creative tour de force we know he can be. For the second summer in succession, keeping him happy and focused is one of Alan Pardew’s priorities.
LEFT-MIDFIELD: Matty Robson
A break-out year for the former Hartlepool man, who was the stand-out performer in what could generously be described as a transitional year at Brunton Park.
Greg Abbott admitted the need for more “excitement” at Carlisle next year and hopefully the winger’s deadly left foot can provide it.
STRIKER: Demba Ba
He was only here half a season and the first bit of that was spent muttering darkly about wanting to be Newcastle’s main striker after toiling to little effect on the left. But you can’t deny Ba was lethal for United this year – and that his departure deepened their woes.
13 goals in 20 games was a remarkable return and he deserves his place in this team for that, even if his conduct sometimes left a bitter taste in the mouth.
STRIKER: Steven Fletcher
By the end of the season no-one was talking about his price-tag, and that was a triumph of sorts.
Eleven goals was a smart return in a team that didn’t create chances, and Fletcher proved his worth to the Black Cats cause with his prolific start to life in red and white. It will be interesting to see how Di Canio uses him next year.
MANAGER: Martin Gray (Darlington)
Granted, this is a bit of a cop-out given Darlington’s place in the pyramid and the fact the criteria for this list is that the players must be in the Football League. But no manager will be wholly happy with their contribution this year.
Maybe Di Canio – whose eight points saved the Black Cats bacon – might deserve more, but Gray helped piece a club that was down and out back together again and won the league at a canter. Hopefully the start of something special for the new Quakers.
SUBS: Jack Baldwin (Hartlepool), Colback (Sunderland), Cisse (Newcastle), HBA (Newcastle), Coloccini (Newcastle), O'Hanlon (Carlisle) Steele (Middlesbrough).