Susan Jardine oversees the business end of the season in the North-East.

It doesn’t seem five minutes ago that North East fans were bracing themselves for an annual ride on the football rollercoaster.

Ultimately this sees them celebrating the high points and experiencing the lows when sometimes they can be left shaking their heads over their favourite teams’ performance.

Now the season enters its final phase, with just a handful of Premiership and league fixtures remaining for the North East teams.

Two teams look like holding station with relative comfort. One looks to be heavily involved in a relegation dogfight, while the other two (one league and one non-league) might just be dreaming of promotion play offs.

Let us start in the Premiership and it looks as though Newcastle will be the North East top dogs this season. On numerous occasions they have flattered to deceive. Beating Chelsea and Manchester United will no doubt be high on the positive memories list for the fans, though there might be some grimacing over home matches involving Sunderland and Hull.

Maybe therefore there is an element of satisfaction but they could have done better and perhaps if Yohan Cabaye had remained on Tyneside the Magpies could have been even higher in the Premiership. The Toon’s season has been markedly better than the last one, but still a lot of work remains to be done before Newcastle can once again be seen in the same bracket as the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and co. Yet if they produce a strong finish to their campaign they might just finish in front of Manchester United, and it has been some time since that happened.

A look at their fixtures for the remainder of the season indicates that Newcastle’s games will also have an impact on who goes down. Crystal Palace visit St James’ tomorrow, but it is not until the penultimate weekend of the season that Alan Pardew’s side will face another club currently in relegation trouble. They of course are Cardiff City and that could be the match which decides Cardiff’s fate.

Meanwhile Sunderland find themselves in a similar position to last year, except this time they may not escape. A terrible start to the season saw Paulo Di Canio relieved of his duties and Gus Poyet replace him. A mini revival saw the Black Cats climb off the bottom and fleetingly out of the bottom three, but defeat at the hands of Arsenal combined with a goaless draw against fellow strugglers Crystal Palce have seen the Black Cats drop back into the relegation zone. This weekend sees a second six pointer as Sunderland head to East Anglia to face Norwich City, with matches at Liverpool and home to West Ham to follow.

Indeed the fixtures after that could resemble a horror film script as Tottenham, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea lie in wait in April. A home match against Cardiff could go some way to deciding which division Sunderland play in next season before they conclude their season against Manchester United, West Brom and Swansea. On paper it looks a tough assignment for Sunderland as the teams they play also have a need for points for varying reasons. Had their matches been against teams in the mid table comfort zone then their task could have been slightly easier.

Middlesbrough though do occupy that territory. A mixed bag of recent results rather sums up their season. They suffered defeat at Sheffield Wednesday but claimed victory against Ipswich with two draws against Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth. Lying in 13th place on 45 points they are currently twelve points off the play off zone. While it is possible that they could make a late run they would also be reliant on results to go their way too. Their cause has not been helped with the news that Mustapha Carayol, Boro’s second top scorer this season is out for the rest of the campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They play QPR this weekend, and the West Londoners are also in need of the points to try and put some pressure on Burnley and Leicester who look as though they are heading for automatic promotion.

Play-off hopefuls Hartlepool have found form at just the right time.

I did mention earlier that one league team may yet win promotion, albeit via the play offs, and they are Hartlepool United. From being rock bottom in the infancy of the season Colin Cooper has guided them up the table to the top ten, and just five points off a play off place. A 4-0 thumping of Bristol Rovers last weekend with goals from Marlon Harewood, Brad Walker, Simon Walton and Jonathan Franks was a good result but can Hartlepool maintain their form. Tonight is a massive test as they head to Oxford whose last league victory on home soil was over a month ago against Mansfield. Since then Oxford have experienced home defeats at the hands of Burton and Chesterfield. Following Oxford are two home matches against Mansfield and Cheltenham as March enters April. Appropriately as April begins they face a run of matches akin to the grand national as they tackle obstacles in the form of Portsmouth, Chesterfield, Burton, Morecambe and Plymouth. If they do negotiate this period with a points return of approximately twelve from those five matches then they might find themselves in the play off zone as they enter their final match against Exeter at Victoria Park.

But another promotion story might be unfolding in the Conference as Gateshead lie just two points off a play off place in the table. Two tricky trips to Barnet and Salisbury yielded four points as the Tynesiders now face four emminently winnable matches in Lincoln, Aldershot, Braintree and Tamworth. While it looks a difficult prospect to catch leaders Luton they certainly can book themselves a play off berth if they maintain their form. Should they do this and succeed through the play offs then it would mean that Gateshead who last played league football in 1960 would resume their league status 54 years later.

So as the season builds towards its conclusion the fates of three of the North Eastern teams remain very much in the balance. April will go some way towards determining their respective fates. The very best of luck to all of them.