Promotion is a fantastic achievement for Rafa Benitez and his players.
Newcastle may have made hard work of the past few weeks but the season as a whole has been one of spectacular improvement.
Bar the evening of bizarre goals on our trip to the south coast, Brighton have been a better team throughout the year.
Apart from giving a big congratulations and some much deserved kudos to Chris Hughton, though, whoever becomes champions of the division is not worth brooding over. Rafa’s job for the year is categorically accomplished with automatic promotion and avoiding the perilous madness of the play-offs.
We’ve seen some great football in the process too, if not perhaps healthy for the nerves at times. The Championship, after all, is a tough and competitive league. Any defiance of its downward whirlpool should be applauded. Aston Villa and Norwich were both relegated alongside us but neither will be returning to the Premier League at our shoulders. When Sunderland and Middlesbrough inevitably find themselves at this level next season the biggest likelihood is that they will also struggle to even find themselves in the top 6.
Sure, Rafa Benitez has had the best squad at his disposal but the two defeats in our opening games back in August reflect the problems of putting together a brand new team at short notice. Since then Gayle has been injured, Shelvey suspended and certain referees forgetting the rules of the sport but still the great HMS St James has continued sailing steadily onwards.
Quite refreshingly by NUFC standards, whenever disaster has loomed, as in the case of our worrying start, a quick recovery has always been made. Our recent wobbles are no different to other hiccups which have since become inconsequential blips. For example, the storm of disciplinary issues conjured during the loss against Wolves in September failed to stop the team from then going 11 games unbeaten.
Even fringe players made timely and crucial contributions. Daryl Murphy, for example, has barely had a game but managed to make a big difference when called upon.
In both of these ways Rafa has shown his experience and quality as a manager. Not only has he been able to cajole players to individual and collective performances but has never allowed panic to set into the dressing room.
That level-headedness has not been seen since Chris Hughton’s days in the Milburn stand dugout. Among Pardew’s various flaws was the fact he could never break up poor runs of form. After each defeat the squad’s morale would suddenly plummet.
What a contrast, therefore, when our new coach supremo steered the team to its usual stride of victories after a potentially derailing set of successive defeats at the start of December – or indeed when some fans began prematurely launching their ejector seats after 90 minutes at Ipswich.
Anybody with half an understanding of history can see this team are far from being the next Entertainers.
Even so, the flipside of that reality makes the achievement of promotion for Rafa Benitez even more worthy of our applause.
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