Newcastle United: A season in review
Rafa Benitez has completed his first task, which was to secure promotion back to the Premier League. Not only that, we did it as Champions and now we are exactly where we belong and can only hope for a successful and exciting future in these upcoming years under his guidance.
This season has been a strange one, as we were champions despite 10 defeats and were even beaten both home and away by the relegated Blackburn Rovers, however, we did also do the double over Brighton, proving that when put up against any team in the division we usually came out on top.
Many felt at the start of the season Newcastle United would coast to the championship, with most bookmakers offering decent odds on Newcastle to go undefeated throughout the entire season. The reason for this was because Rafa had assembled an excellent Championship squad made up of lower Premier League players like Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle, plus players who had played in the Championship for years and done a good job such as Daryl Murphy and Grant Hanley. This squad on paper, should have run away with the league.
Newcastle of course started the season poorly losing their first two games to Fulham and Huddersfield. However, this proved to be a blip and Newcastle won 5 in a row including a 6-0 thrashing of QPR at Loftus Road, where Grant Hanley even managed to get on the scoresheet!
The next three games over the space of eight days however, proved to be a pivotal point in Newcastle’s season. An awful performance at home to Wolves, which saw Mbemba score an own goal, led to him being dropped and replaced by Ciaran Clark, the following game Newcastle drew 1-1 with Aston Villa thanks to a last minute mistake from Matz Sels; he was subsequently dropped and replaced by Karl Darlow. These were two key personnel changes in United’s backline which ultimately led us to promotion, as these lads were excellent.
The key turning point however, proved to be the following game at home vs Norwich. Finding themselves 3-2 down heading into stoppage time; Newcastle looked to be dropping off as if we had not have won that game we would have been three games without a win and in 9th position, thankfully Gouffran and Gayle scored in stoppage time to send St James Park wild and also transform our season.
From there Newcastle won eight games in a row including an away win at Leeds, in these games Gayle scored 10 goals and Shelvey was immense, pulling the strings from his deep lying midfield role.
It looked as if we were going to run away with the league. But as so often is the case with Newcastle they bottled it and lost to Blackburn at home, before being cheated out of a result at Nottingham Forest by one of the worst refereeing performances of recent times.
The Christmas Period brought four wins and two defeats, including that other defeat to Blackburn, but as Newcastle headed into their game against Brentford with 26 games played they sat first with 55 points, whilst Brighton sat just behind them on 54. Newcastle won that game vs Brentford 2-1 thanks to an excellent Daryl Murphy header and from there went 11 games unbeaten, which included excellent wins away at Brighton and Huddersfield as well as disappointing home draws with Bristol City and QPR.
It must be said that in this period of time, Matt Ritchie was excellent, with key goals vs Derby and Huddersfield to sometimes singlehandedly win Newcastle the games.
The end part of the season saw Newcastle suffer a few blips, which seemed to indicate that the pressure of promotion was getting to the players. Against Fulham and Ipswich Newcastle were played off the park both times, though the Fulham defeat was because they were excellent and the Ipswich defeat was because we were terrible.
The Ipswich defeat left Newcastle trailing Brighton by seven points with only three games to go, but promotion was nearly in the bag, as we led reading by six points and Huddersfield by seven.
Newcastle played their home game vs Preston on a Monday; results over the course of the weekend had meant that a win would seal promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking, which was duly secured with a 4-1 win.
Rafa’s main objective had been fulfilled and Premier league football will be back at St James Park next season. The title was however, still mathematically possible and we played before Brighton, away to Cardiff, a 2-0 win was secured thanks to an excellent Atsu free kick and a brilliant strike by Hayden.
The pressure was on Brighton and they duly crumbled the following day losing 1-0 to Bristol City at home, meaning the title race would go down to the final day.
Newcastle were at home to Barnsley and Brighton away to the truly awful Aston Villa. Newcastle needed a win and Brighton to not win this would secure what only weeks ago had looked like an improbable title; things were going well with Newcastle 2-0 up after 62 minutes, but news emerged that Brighton had a penalty and Villa were down to 10 men, Glenn Murray scored of course and the atmosphere died in St James Park.
That was of course until the 89th minute when Jack Grealish took a pot shot from 25 yards which slipped under the Championship goalkeeper of the year, David Stockdale, to hand Newcastle United the Championship trophy and send St James Park into wild scenes of celebration.
The title was won, the players and fans went mad and Rafa looked overjoyed, the perfect conclusion to a gruelling season.
Now the work starts for the next one, which is only likely to be even tougher, but in Rafa we trust.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])