By COLIN YOUNG
Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been named North East Football Writers’ Association’s player of the year 2012.
And in a double for North East keepers, Middlesbrough and Team GB Olympian Jason Steele has been named young player of the year.
In one of the tightest votes in the award’s 32-year history, Mignolet just pipped Newcastle United midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa to the prize. Newcastle’s Dutch international keeper Tim Krul was third.
Mignolet, who has been a virtual ever-present for Martin O’Neill since he won his place back on New Year’s Day, is the fifth North East keeper to win the award since David Armstrong was the first winner in 1980. Since then, Jim Platt, Stephen Pears, Thomas Sorensen and Shay Given (twice) have won it.
Mignolet said: `It is always a good thing to win individual awards as a footballer. Of course you want to win medals and trophies, but any individual accolade is always nice and I am very pleased.
`It is very kind of the journalists to vote for me. Obviously I know there is tough competition between the three teams, particularly between Sunderland and Newcastle, and there have been some very good players in the teams this year and some very good individual performances.
`There are a lot of big names on the trophy, including some top goalkeepers, and it is an honour for me. I could not be more pleased to be among them and picking it up at the age of 24.’
Mignolet will be presented with his awards at the NEFWA annual dinner at the Ramside Hall Hotel, Durham on Sunday February 24.
The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation’s personality of the year award will also be presented, as well as presentations to Carlisle United captain Peter Murphy, in his testimonial year, and Team GB goalscorer extraordinaire Stephanie Houghton.