Has Demba set the Ba highest or has Mignolet pulled out all the stops Player of the year crown up for grabs
16:26 GMT, 19 December 2012
The voting slips will go out for the North East player of 2012 this week.
And although anyone from Newcastle United, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool United, Carlisle United and even Darlington has a chance, there are of course a few leading candidates.
But only a few.
For the first half of the season, you could take your pick of the Newcastle squad, while there were a couple of worthy candidates at Sunderland. The second half is less clear cut. It hasn’t been a great six months.
Partners in time Newcastle strikers Demba Ba (left) and Papiss Cisse (right)
Newcastle’s No 1 is Tim Krul and the young Dutchman has been arguably the most consistent performer for Alan Pardew at both ends of the Barclays Premier League.
Handed the opportunity, if not the actual shirt, by Pardew at the start of last season, Krul was simply outstanding behind a Newcastle back four which had to contend with the loss of Steven Taylor for most of 2012.
Not only has he proved himself an excellent shot-stopper when it counts, Krul has a real presence about him, and a confidence which is an absolute necessity in any top flight goalkeeper. He has kept Steve Harper out of the side, and has earned the right to be named Newcastle No 1 now.
And he has maintained it throughout the year. If it had not been for Krul, and, admittedly, some very un-world-class finishing, Manchester City would have been even more rampant last week but Krul, using his whole body, kept the champions at bay.
Sorely missed: Yohan Cabaye's injury has deprived Newcastle of a top midfielder
The current player of the year is Fabricio Coloccini, who has had another excellent year – or nine months at least.
Another man who makes his presence felt in the Newcastle side, as both centre-back and captain, the Argentina international was the undoubted leader of the team which finished fifth last season.
Very little got past him, but he has struggled on occasions this season, particularly when he has perhaps not been fully fit, and even dared to make a few mistakes. Perhaps he has been trying too hard. Taylor is suffering another long-term injury and has been missed over the last two months and at times Coloccini has been doing two players’ jobs. When he concentrates on one, there are not many better centre-backs in the Premier League.
Cheick Tiote is a replication of his skipper.
Another essential component of the Newcastle team, he was near faultless at times last season, and even his disciplinary problems, which are very much on-going, can be overlooked. He likes a tackle, he likes to win the ball and keep it and when he is suspended, he is sorely missed.
No 1's to watch: Tim Krul (left) and Sunderland's Simon Mignolet (right)
But like Coloccini, Tiote has not reached the standards he set when he first joined the club, never mind of last season. He has missed his tackles and given the ball away. Hit by injury that kept him out for the first two months, he has struggled to find his rhythm and exert his influence on matches for Newcastle. There were indications against Manchester City that he is getting back to his best.
Sadly Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa were both missing against City, and will be absent for the difficult Christmas period.
Cabaye is just a very good footballer, which he proved in his first English league season, and then in the European Championship finals for France. His injury was a real blow to Pardew and Newcastle.
He is very nearly the perfect midfielder because he can do just about everything, tackle, score, pass to keep possession or open a chasm in the opposition’s defence. No wonder Manchester United and Arsenal have been eyeing him with envy until his knee injury.
Hot and cold: Stephane Sessegnon has failed to hit the heights of last season
Ben Arfa meanwhile has the wow factor, as his brilliant goals against Blackburn and Bolton highlighted. Newcastle supporters, brought up on Waddle, Ginola and Robert, love him. He wins matches when he is at his best, and he has been at his best for most of the year.
And that brings us finally to Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.
Alan Shearer raised questions about their partnership on Match of the Day and the former No 9 is not the first critic to notice that the pair don’t seem to be able actually to play together, score in the same games and show any sort of telepathy as a front pair. Pardew, for the moment, is reluctant to pick them in that role.
Fans have been asking quite openly if they even like each other – which was never an issue for Sheringham and Cole at Manchester United but has led to very different halves of the year in their case.
Cisse was on fire when he first signed, scoring an incredible 13 goals in 14 games. This season he has two in 15, and to go back to the City game again, he blasted his side’s best chance of an equaliser with a dreadful wild shot. It was an opportunity he took for fun last season, as his wonderful two goals at Chelsea demonstrated.
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Ba had scored 15 before his fellow Senegal international arrived, and added just one more after January. This season, he has certainly re-discovered his pre-Christmas touch, with 11 goals so far. Newcastle need him to stay, and to keep scoring.
If you could put Ba and Cisse together as one player, he’d win the award by a mile. Putting them together as a partnership is a priority for their manager.
Like Krul, Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet has seized his opportunity to be No 1 with two very safe hands.
The Belgium keeper, who like the Newcastle man faces stiff competition to be the regular first choice for his country, has had to be consistent to keep Keiren Westwood out of Martin O’Neill’s team.
And the fact his error against West Brom was the first he has really made since Westwood’s New Year’s Day illness speaks volumes for his consistency and performances. Historically, Sunderland supporters like their goalkeepers and Mignolet could be up there with the best over time.
He has certainly been O’Neill’s best performer over the 12 months, although others have had their moments.
James McClean was sensational in his first season but has inevitably found it tougher this campaign. Defenders know how to play against him and perseverance alone has not been enough. But O’Neill has preserved, confident he can hit the heights again.
He has done the same with Stephane Sessegnon whose form last season I put up with the best ever seen in a Sunderland player. There have been too many games this season when it’s hard to believe it is actually the same footballer. But like Ben Arfa, he wins and changes matches. Sunderland need the real Sessegnon to step up now.
It says something about Sunderland’s current woes that new signings Danny Rose and Steven Fletcher have been their best outfield players. Sadly for them, it won’t be enough to claim the coveted North East award whose roll-call includes Shearer, Quinn, Phillips, Given, Keegan, Beardsley, Juninho, Ferdinand and Allon.
Who is it going to be this year