Tuesday Topic: Does Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough's position on New Year's Day dictate where they will finish at the end of the season?

TOMORROW heralds the start of 2014, and the region's three biggest clubs will be hoping that a new year brings a new chance to climb their respective league tables.

But just how easy it is to change the course of a season after New Year's Day? Is it possible to completely transform things in the second half of a season? Or does a club's league position on January 1 provide a strong pointer to where they will finish come the middle of May?

Having trawled through the record books for the last decade, it is possible to provide a comparison between a club's position on New Year's Day and where they eventually finished at the end of the campaign. What does that tell us for the next five months?

NEWCASTLE


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Season New Year's Day Finishing position Change

2013-14 8th ?? ??

2012-13 15th 16th -1

2011-12 7th 5th +2

2010-11 13th 12th +1 

2009-10 1st 1st No Change

2008-09 14th 18th -4

2007-08 11th 12th -1

2006-07 13th 13th No Change

2005-06 11th 7th +4

2004-05 14th 14th No Change

The statistics from the last decade show that Newcastle United are comfortably the most stable of the region's clubs when it comes to maintaining their position in the second half of the season.

In six of the last nine completed campaigns, the Magpies either remained in the same position they inhabited on New Year's Day or moved either up or down by only one place, a fact that augurs well for their attempts to remain in the top half of the table.

Given that they are eighth after losing to Arsenal at the weekend, the sensible money would have them finishing somewhere between seventh and ninth come the end of the season.

Interestingly, however, in two of the three seasons that saw them change position by more than one place in the second half of the campaign, they qualified for Europe, something they will be hoping to emulate this time around.

The first occasion came in 2005-06, as they climbed from 11th on New Year's Day to eventually finish seventh, largely thanks to a run of five successive victories from the start of April. With the big clubs dominating the cup competitions, that was enough to secure a place in the UEFA Cup.

A similar thing also happened two seasons ago, with Newcastle climbing two places in the second half of the season to finish fifth and make the Europa League.

Were Newcastle to improve by two places in the top half of the table again, they would be back in the Europa League provided either the FA Cup or Capital One Cup was won by a side in one of the top five positions.

SUNDERLAND

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Season New Year's Day Finishing position Change

2013-14 20th ?? ??

2012-13 14th 17th -3

2011-12 14th 13th +1

2010-11 7th 10th -3

2009-10 10th 13th -3

2008-09 15th 16th -1

2007-08 17th 15th +2

2006-07 13th 1st +13

2005-06 20th 20th No Change

2004-05 3rd 1st +2

The first thing that stands out from an analysis of Sunderland's record is just how remarkable the club's rise up the Championship table in 2007 was.

The Black Cats climbed 13 places after the turn of the year to claim the Championship title, and while Roy Keane's reign ultimately ended in disappointment, the Irishman's role in transforming a struggling second-tier team should not be overlooked. Indeed, the most remarkable thing of all about the 2006-07 season was that Sunderland had completed their climb from 13th to first by March 5.

Leaving that aside, however, the omens are not particularly good as the Black Cats look to haul themselves off the foot of the table and into a position of safety by the end of the campaign.

Sunderland need to improve by three places to avoid relegation, and barring their title-winning season under Keane, they have not done that in the last decade.

They have climbed by two places twice, but one of those occasions was their other title-winning season in the Championship.

On the previous occasion that the Black Cats found themselves bottom of the top flight on New Year's Day, they remained there for the rest of the season.

The club's current position is nothing like as chronic as it was back in 2005-06, and on the other occasion Sunderland were in real trouble at the turn of the year (2007-08), they clambered from 17th to 15th despite dropping into the bottom three in the middle of January.

Gustavo Poyet's team are capable of achieving similar success in the remainder of the season, but they will have to turn the tide of history to do it.

MIDDLESBROUGH

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Season New Year's Day Finishing position Change

2013-14 15th ?? ??

2012-13 3rd 16th -13

2011-12 2nd 7th -5

2010-11 21st 12th +9

2009-10 11th 11th No Change

2008-09 17th 19th -2

2007-08 14th 13th -1

2006-07 17th 12th +5

2005-06 14th 14th No Change

2004-05 5th 7th -2

The good news for Middlesbrough, as they look to mount a sustained push for the play-offs in the second half of the season, is that the statistics suggest the Championship is a much more volatile league than the top-flight.

It is much easier to radically change your position after New Year's Day in England's second tier, which is a positive for Boro as they look to improve on their current position of 15th.

Last season, a disastrous slump under Tony Mowbray saw the Teessiders tumble a staggering 13 places in the second half of the campaign, with New Year hopes of an automatic promotion place quickly disappearing as they eventually finished in the bottom half of the table.

Two years earlier, however, Mowbray did things in reverse, guiding his side away from relegation trouble at the foot of the table and leading them to a top-half finish on the final weekend.

Boro climbed nine places back then, and an identical performance this time around would see them scraping into the play-offs. It is going to be a tough task, but Aitor Karanka's side have at least begun to generate some momentum, and history suggests it is not an impossible dream.

The other interesting thing to emerge from Boro's record in the last decade is a rebuttal of the claim that the club repeatedly falls apart in the second half of the season.

If you forget about last season – and plenty of fans would like to – then Boro have only dropped by more than two places on one more occasion in the last decade.

Admittedly the fact that it happened in 2011-12 means they did it twice in a row, but during their Premier League years, Boro either climbed or held their position after New Year as often as they fell.

Comments (1)

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3:48pm Tue 31 Dec 13

behonest says...

"does a club's league position on January 1 provide a strong pointer to where they will finish come the middle of May?"

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Interesting article. But then again, maybe not.
"does a club's league position on January 1 provide a strong pointer to where they will finish come the middle of May?" Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Interesting article. But then again, maybe not. behonest

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