League Insider - North East
Graeme Bailey looks at football on Teesside in the latest installment of our weekly feature.
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @skygraemebailey. Last Updated: September 26, 2011 12:35pm
Heading towards the end of 2010 and football on Teesside was on its knees, now 12 months on and few could have envisaged such a transformation at Middlesbrough and Hartlepool United.
This time last year, Gordon Strachan was just weeks away from being sacked after a dismal start to the season, whilst at Victoria Park the club had been thrown into turmoil by Chris Turner's departure.
Despite their problems, neither club panicked and now they are reaping their rewards.
Boro turned to their own club legend in the shape of Tony Mowbray, whilst Hartlepool went with first-team coach Mick Wadsworth to see them through.
Now into the new season, and both clubs are enjoying record breaking success.
After their victory at the weekend at Crystal Palace, a club-record sixth successive away win, Boro soared to the top of the Championship.
Not many at Middlesbrough could have dared to believe such a turnaround was possible at a club which for much of last season battled against relegation to League One.
Now Mowbray, without spending any money, has transformed his home-town club. As I argued just before his appointment, Boro needed Mowbray to come in and bring back the passion, but also a brand of football that he was famed for.
And that is just what he has done, he has not spent the vast money (by Championship standards) that Strachan did, but has instead cut his cloth accordingly.
It must be pointed out that Mowbray is benefiting from some big Strachan buys like Barry Robson, Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey - but those three players particularly are almost unrecognisable in terms of performance and commitment under the new regime.
Boro are now starting to turn heads, and are the only unbeaten side left in the Championship, and Mowbray maintains a dignified silence on what is now becoming heated promotion talk - but he is happy for his players to do the talking, and they are carrying on in the same manner.
Should promotion come this season, then it would be the greatest turnaround at the club since his playing days - when he captained Bruce Rioch's side to the top-flight in 1988, just two years after being in liquidation and being locked out of their Ayresome Park home.
Indeed, that first season back Boro were forced to play away from their own home with their neighbours Hartlepool giving them refuge.
Now as Mowbray's magic is being seen on Teesside, Hartlepool are enjoying the best start to the season in their history.
And Hartlepool, like Boro, can genuinely look to their manager for paving the way to their recent success.
Wadsworth has worked his own magic with Hartlepool and, again without major surgery, has transformed them into promotion chasers.
Just as down the North East coast at the Riveside they are trying not to mention promotion, there are indeed whispers doing the rounds at Victoria Park that it could yet play host to Championship football for the first time in its history.
Hartlepool made sure they continued their brilliant start with a convincing 3-0 win over Bury.
The club created their own buzz around the town before the season began with over 4,000 season tickets sold as their own scheme took off.
Now Wadsworth is helping to replay the outlay from those fans with great football and results to match.
So suddenly from nowhere, Teesside has gone from fearing it was heading for its lowest ebb in a generation to having both its team looking at promotion come May.