Date: 25th April 2016 at 3:28pm
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Three teams. Two Regions. One place in the Premier League. Yes, the top of the Premier League maybe it’s most unpredictable in generations, but the race for survival in the world’s greatest division is, arguably, more exhilarating.

It’s simple: 2 sides out of Newcastle United, Sunderland and Norwich City will be down – only one will be safe.

Despite looking dead and buried only weeks ago, there is a new sense of optimism in around St James’ Park. A 2-2 draw against Liverpool on Saturday; and with fixtures being helpful to the Toon in the coming weeks, makes the side who looked doomed only weeks ago, favourites to remain in the Premier League.

Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

Newcastle’s Colback challenges Fabio Borini during March’s Tyne-Wear derby against former club Sunderland – Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

For Jack Colback, survival would mean everything. A boyhood Newcastle fan who watched his club flirt with the top of the Premier League as a child, now has the aspiration to keep the North East side in England’s top-flight. Shoot takes a look at the former Sunderland man, whose wish is now to send the club’s fierest rivals into the Championship.

Where did it all start for Colback?

Born in Newcastle, Colback was a Toon through and through. St James’ Park was his place of worship as a youngster, with countless members of his family being a follower of the black and white outfit. As a youngster, he spent numerous days in the 52,000-capacity stadium watching Kevin Keegan’s men battle it out for the Premier League title with Manchester United.

So it may surprise you, that aged 10, he made the move to Newcastle’s sternest of rivals, Sunderland, by joining their academy at the Stadium of Light. Here he steadily progressed through the ranks at the Academy of Light, and reached the play-offs with the Under 18’s squad during the 2006-07 season, scoring a significant goal in a fixture against Manchester United from the penalty spot to be crowned champions of their group.

Playing alongside the likes of current Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Colback developed and became a regular within the reserve team in the 2007-08 campaign as the Black Cats finished fourth on their return to the FA Premier Reserve League. But by the start of the 2008-09 season he needed first-team football.

The main question was; however, would that come at the Stadium of Light, or elsewhere? Even though making the bench in fixtures over Everton, West Ham United and Man United, he was never going to get regular first-team football under then manager Steve Bruce. A trip to Portman Road beckoned.

What happened next?

It was August 2009, just days before the start of the 2009-10 Championship season, that Colback made the move to Ipswich Town when former Sunderland manager Roy Keane signed the youngster. After not making the bench for the first three games of the season, Colback made his debut at the Hawthorns when he replaced current Colchester United midfielder Owen Garvan in a 2-0 defeat over a Roberto Di Matteo side, who would eventually return to the Premier League at the first time of asking after finishing second in the table, behind Colback’s beloved Newcastle.

Therefore, an assist for Jonathan Walters in the dying seconds on the penultimate game of the season against Chris Hughton’s already promoted Magpies side, may have been the personal highlight; but his first professional goal against Doncaster Rovers, as well as strikes against Coventry and an eventually promoted Blackpool side, will also stand out for Colback.

After a successful loan spell in Suffolk, Colback eventually made the breakthrough into the Sunderland first-team when he made his Premier League debut for the Black Cats in a fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was a day that he would remember for generations…. right? Perhaps so, but not in a good way. Just nine minutes in, he was sent off for a second bookable offence.

After not making an appearance in the Premier League at the start of the 2010-11 season, Colback needed a loan move again. Thankfully, Ipswich came calling once more as he made a return to Portman Road, making 13 league appearances for the Tractor Boys before his return to the Stadium of Light in early 2011.

How did the rest of his career in Wearside develop?

By January 2011, just days after the departure of manager Keane at Ipswich, Colback made the trip back to the North East. After playing 60 minutes in an FA Cup tie against Notts County, Colback returned to Premier League action for the Wearsiders a week later when he appeared in a fixture against his boyhood club Newcastle. Despite only featuring for a matter of minutes in the derby of all derbies, Colback became a regular within the Sunderland starting XI and went on to make 11 league appearances for the Black Cats that season as Bruce’s men finished in a healthy tenth position.

Come the following campaign, Colback was an ever present in the Sunderland midfield playing alongside captain Lee Cattermole; even when not appearing in a holding defensive role, he dropped into left-back or even attacking midfield to demonstrate his immense versatility.

By January 2012, he had committed his future to the Stadium of Light for another two years and all was going well until Paolo Di Canio took the reigns as manager in March 2013. After much speculation over Colback’s departure throughout the season, with West Ham looking likely to capture the Geordie, he left the Stadium of Light to move to his boyhood club – he made the trip to St James’ Park.

Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

Colback has featured 27 times for Newcastle in all competitions so far this season – Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

How has he performed at Newcastle?

In June 2014, shock captured the North East as Newcastle acquired the Sunderland midfielder on a free transfer after failing to reach an agreement over a new deal with the Black Cats. By making the controversial switch, he became the first player since Lionel Perez in 1988 to make the move directly across the Bridge to the fiercest rivals of them all.

He made his debut for the Toon on the first weekend of the Premier League season in a 2-0 defeat against reigning champions Manchester City, and was mostly ever present in the Newcastle side for the duration of the entire term. His first goal in black and white colours came just days after Christmas in a fixture against Everton – the best present Colback has ever had.

Since making the move, he has been adored by Newcastle fans for his hard work rate and dedication to the cause as they continue to fight off relegation; so much so, that in May 2013, following defeat over Leicester City, then manager John Carver called his work rate “inspirational” and asked his other players to show the same dedication as the former Sunderland man. The highest compliment he could ask for on one of the darkest days in Newcastle’s recent history.

Was his goal against Liverpool a surprise?

Very much so. Colback has never been known as a consistent scorer, and his goal on Saturday was his first strike in a black and white shirt away from home and his first Newcastle goal for just over a year (April 19, 2015). However his effort did take a deflection to help it go in, and therefore was not his most special of goals, however because of its significance – it will be a goal that he will remember for years to come.

 
Brought to you by Shoot!