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I actually allowed myself to doubt Rafa Benitez

4 years ago

Well, that was fun. Wasn’t it? Just 348 days later and we’re back in the room. Maybe it was all a dream, like the shower scene in that infamous episode of Dallas. Promoted back to the top table. Back among the big boys.

Thank you Rafa Benitez.

Hang on, it wasn’t a dream, it actually happened. Not quite the way many might have wanted or envisaged after we looked like running way with it – but you simply cannot argue with the achievement. Passing Sunderland on the way too. Boom! Only apt that we return them a favour and invite them to enjoy the trip to Burton.

Our demotion gave Benitez just seven weeks to get a Championship side bolted together. He was faced with a clutch of teams champing at the bit to reach the promised land. It was a very hard league, we were told. In many ways it was, not least the refs.

I recall an encounter with a cocky Huddersfield Town fan at Haymarket bus station ten minutes after they had done us 2-1 back in August. He was basically saying ‘welcome to hell, you’re in for a rough ride’. It was a tough moment. I actually allowed myself to doubt our manager.

What happened next was majestic, the away form in particular. We went barrelling through the league and it was all such astonishingly good fun. Then we got pegged back a bit and had that week of destiny when we had to win at Brighton and Huddersfield. From that point on it was a case of how many wins did we need.

The key moment of the season was the miraculous home win over Norwich. Yes, a turning point as early as September. I’d swear blind I still relive that game nearly every other day. Just seconds remained and 2-3 became 4-3. The momentum had been seized.

In the final sprint for the line I look back at the home games with Wigan and Burton. Six points were needed, we were really streaky, but the job got done. In the case of Burton the players eked it out despite the hammer blow of the most shambolic refereeing decision ever witnessed at St James Park.

As the dust settles and we look back on it all and laugh, the reality is that if it hadn’t have been for David Wagner turning water into wine at Huddersfield, then Newcastle and Brighton really had it all sewn up. Both sides were streets ahead of the rest (Blimey, that bloke Hughton is a good manager).

The undoubted player of the season is Matt Ritchie. That guy is a natural born leader and has an eye for goal and a burning desire to win, no matter what the scenario the team is facing. We need that spirit for the massive challenge that lies ahead.

The hard work starts here.

The manager now has a crunch meeting with the owner. Oh to be a fly on the wall for that one. If Ashley wants to keep the club moving forward he will find a way to keep Benitez happy and give him the autonomy to build a Premier League team capable of getting 40 points. Any scenario that sees this  manager being allowed to walk away will kill the club, dead.

The mission statement has to be one of consolidation in the top flight, with a dart at the cups. It will be much tougher than what we have seen, but let’s have a crack at it.

I hate to borrow a political slogan but…Rafa Benitez can make Newcastle great again.

You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton

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