Simon O'Rourke: Flipping the script

Credit: Press Association

Football fans love nothing more than a good early season knee jerk reaction and the North East was flipping scripts left, right and centre last weekend.

Sunderland flipped the script in a good way. Newcastle United did it in a very, very bad way.

Middlesbrough didn't really flip the script on the pitch, but circumstances had already done it for them.

The Magpies went full "feast or famine". Having impressively dispatched a desperate West Ham team on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season, they found themselves impressively dispatched by a vibrant Brighton team.

It was at home as well, which made it more painful, despite the fact home advantage fairly obviously counts for much less in these difficult times. Newcastle were rotten.

Newcastle's Callum Wilson and Brighton and Hove Albion's Adam Webster battle for the ball during the Premier League match at St James' Park. Credit: Press Association

Head Coach Steve Bruce has admitted as much: "It was nowhere near what's required in the Premier League. We're aware of it. We played poorly and we have to respond. In the past, we've responded and I'm sure we will again.

"There are other teams that play poorly and don't get the sensational headlines that we get but that's what we have to deal with and have to accept. Look, we were nowhere near good enough. Hold your hands up, roll your sleeves up and get on with it again."It's exhausting supporting or covering Newcastle United. It's always feast or famine.

Managers, transfers, owners and takeovers. All of it. Wild swings of the pendulum and the Steve Bruce-o-meter, all the time. It shows how much people care I suppose. But it's added a layer of tension to this week's EFL Cup tie at Morecambe.

Luke O'Nien of Sunderland and Matty Taylor of Oxford United during the match between Oxford United and Sunderland at the Kassam Stadium. Credit: Press Association

Sunderland managed a more positive script flip in League 1. After a ponderous opening day draw with Bristol Rovers, the Black Cats won at Oxford, last season's losing playoff finalists.

The glass is maybe, possibly, approaching half full again.

Manager Phil Parkinson said:  “It was a very professional performance from us. Everybody knows this is a difficult place to come against a side who were right up there with us last season, and to come away with a 2-0 victory is a great tonic for us."

Sunderland's constant problem in League 1 is the obvious "it's-all-relative" thing. But that's where they are, for the third season running, so perhaps it's time to start considering their success and failure on that level, rather than weigh it down with tonnes of "Big Club in a lower league" judgement.

Philip Billing of Bournemouth in action with Middlesbrough's Jonathan Howson and Britt Assombalonga. Credit: Press Association

Boro's late equaliser at home to Bournemouth was important. It was well deserved and it meant they didn't start the championship season with two consecutive defeats.

But it didn't flip the script in terms of their expectations for the months ahead. By then though, Neil Warnock had tested positive for Covid-19 and that felt more important than the football anyway.

The club told us Neil is doing fine and in good spirits, and he still got to have his say on Saturday anyway.

Warnock's Assistant Kevin Blackwell said: "The technology now meant Neil could speak to the boys before the warm-up. And he had a chat at the end and let them know how proud he was. He hardly called throughout the game, to be fair, because the performance was that good."

Get well soon Neil. 

So there we are, reality biting, scripts flipping and knees jerking. But do you know what? Try and relax. This is (I think) the 25th season of North East Football I've covered on the radio or on TV and there's only one thing you can ever hope to spot this early on in a season. The bad ones. The dead men walking. The disasters waiting to happen. From what I'm seeing, none of our lot fall into that category. So keep calm and carry on.