by Susan Jardine

As we head towards spring in what is traditionally squeaky backside time in the North East we can relax for once. The reason being, that none of our league clubs are going down.

In fact it is more likely to be in the opposite direction. One team is engaged in a dog fight for a place in Europe, the other is chasing promotion back to the Premiership, another is dreaming of Wembley and the fourth is chasing a play off place. All in all not a bad position to be in.

Let’s start with Newcastle and the Magpies are in a three way battle for the final Champions League place for next season. Even the Sunderland fans have to admit it – no doubt through gritted teeth though.

Visiting St James’ this weekend. Notice that I wrote St James’! are Wolves. Having just appointed a new manager in Terry Connor to replace Mick McCarthy the Midlanders will want to impress their new manager, but their away form is desperate. This combined with a porous defence has left them just above the dreaded trap door. In those circumstances the last team you would want to face are a side who are boosted by the return of Cheik Tiote, Ryan Taylor and Yohan Cabaye in midfield. Throw in Ba and Cisse, combined with the support from the fanatical Toon Army and you suspect Wolves will be in for a miserable afternoon on Tyneside. And if Wolves fans have been looking at the omens they will hardly be comforted with the fact that Spiderman (Jonas Gutierez) has scored on his last two outings against the Molineux side. Gutierez is well capable of spinning another web against Wolves, the Argentinian has tormented many down the left wing this season and if Wolves are to stand a chance at St James’ he is one man they will have to find a way of combating

Should Lee Cattermole be booked he would then have to serve a ban that would put him out of the Tyne Wear derby

Wolves though should welcome back Karl Henry who has completed a three match suspension. Michael Kightly should also be fit to play after recovering from a back injury he sustained against Aston Villa while Steven Fletcher is likely to feature too despite being laid low with a virus and a migraine

Fresh from their triumph against Arsenal last weekend in the FA Cup fifth round Sunderland head to the West Midlands to face West Bromwich Albion. In their first match since the departure of the highly popular Niall Quinn the Black Cats need to make sure that they do not suffer a cup hangover at the Hawthorns in what has become a very difficult ground to travel to. Another potential problem for Martin O’Neil is that should Lee Cattermole be booked he would then have to serve a ban that would put him out of the Tyne Wear derby – which is of course next weekend at St James’. Don’t be surprised therefore to see O’Neil rest Cattermole and play Jack Colback in midfield along with Craig Gardner. Colback of course played in Cattermole’s place in midfield while the skipper was injured and aquitted himself very well. For West Brom Keith Andrews should make his debut following his signing from Balckburn in place of Paul Scharner who has a rib injury. The Baggies have the worst home record outside the bottom three, and have not won a league match at hom since November. The law of averages states that must surely change.

Middlesbrough are back on home turf after a successful trip to Bermondsey in midweek where they outplayed and beat Milwall. Having endured a torrid period of form that ended with a victory of Nottingham Forest Middlesbrough are still in the promtion shake up and seem to have regained their confidence. Manager Tony Mowbray still has a few players carrying knocks – so he will have been highly delighted to have midfielder Nicky Bailey return to training following his recovery from a knee ligament injury that has seen him sidelined the best part of two months. Also the emergence of teenage striker Curtis Main means that Boro fans now have a sense of optimism for the remainder of the season.

Fourteen clean sheets from the Royals this season in the Championship give you an indication of the challenge they pose Middlesbrough.

Reading though are a formidable team on their travels and have won seven of their matches away from the Madejski Stadium and are just a point ahead of Tony Mowbray’s team in the Championship. That they also boost a proud record of 394 minutes without conceding a goal in football. Fourteen clean sheets from the Royals this season in the Championship give you an indication of the challenge they pose Middlesbrough.

Just seven points off a play off place in League One Hartlepool head to Adams Park to face Wycombe Wanderers. Having thumped Notts County 3-0 at the Vic last weekend Hartlepool face a team who are rock bottom of League 1. And as anyone who follows Hartlepool will tell you – that probably makes them a harder team to beat. They invariably achieve their best results against teams that they are thought they will struggle against, only to see the good work undone against teams that they should comfortably beat. But aside from that the Hartlepool back four, which is a settled one involving Neil Austin, Sam Collins, Peter Hartley and Evan Horwood have been instrumental in seeing Hartlepool keep five clean sheets in their last seven outings. Throw in the attack of Luke James, Antony Sweeney, Andy Monkhouse and James Brown, four players in very good form and there is every chance that Pools will return to Cleveland with three points from their trip to Buckinghamshire.

Where am I this weekend then? Well I have that rare luxury of a weekend off. While it affords me a sleep in I would far rather be at a match. Next week of course I will be hiding behind the sofa as Newcastle and Sunderland lock horns in the Tyne Wear derby. And I will have a special feature on that for you this week. So if you are of a Newcastle or Sunderland persuasion then it will be the good, the bad and the downright ugly!!.

Have a good weekend everyone. Enjoy your footy

You can follow Susan on Twitter at @northeastdiva