There have been many, many occasions when the collective fans of Newcastle United have come to St James Park and endured a testing or miserable experience. On the other hand, there are days like this, which go some way to making it all worthwhile.
The scene was set out in comprehensive detail. To add the Championship title cherry to the top of the promotion cake, we needed to better Brighton’s result at Villa in any way, shape or form. If they won, it didn’t matter what we did.
The only focus Rafa and the players could possibly have, was on their own job of beating Barnsley and ensuring that only a Brighton victory would deny them the silverware. With Gallowgate flags putting on another fine display and the crowd pumped up to a season-high volume, the setting was very much in place for a carnival atmosphere.
There was some concern as Barnsley looked a little difficult to break down early on (it’s always a possibility that a team may just roll over on a final day, whatever blether is spewed forth about integrity etc) but United looked keen going forward. Atsu had a terrific first half, as you’d expect from a man seeking a permanent deal, with a pair of vicious drives bringing excellent saves from Tykes goalie Adam Davies, who had an impressively busy afternoon.
Atsu had already made a key contribution by the time he tried his luck, playing in the overlapping Yedlin to square the ball to Perez, who cheekily dinked it inside the far post with the inside of his heel in a near exact recreation of his Goal of the Month effort at West Brom a few seasons back. Absolute bedlam as the lead meant we were champions as it stood.
Early on in the match Isaac Hayden had received an obvious blow to the head, thankfully not serious as he emerged post-match to join in the celebrations. The stoppage from this created five minutes of first-half injury time – but alarmingly a similar occurrence at Villa meant their game went on even longer.
With United looking increasingly dominant more and more eyes were turning to events in the Midlands, creating mass phone usage and rendering it tricky to get an accurate reception. This meant that the false rumour that circulated of Brighton falling behind was given a few minutes of credence before the 4G caught up with itself.
With our rivals still scoreless, it was vital the game was put to bed second-half.
The whole situation took on a different perspective on the hour mark as emotions began to shift. First, United made it 2-0, a lead that Barnsley surely didn’t fancy chasing down. Shelvey’s free kick came straight back off the wall but Colback tidied up brilliantly and put Perez in behind the defence. His drive was parried by Davies but only as far as the unmarked Chancel Mbemba, who had ample time to lash into the unguarded net. More bedlam, but relatively short-lived as it quickly emerged that Brighton had a penalty. Again the phone reception was the enemy but it was ultimately confirmed that Glenn Murray had given Albion the lead from the spot and Villa defender Nathan Baker was off into the bargain.
This brought about a muted twenty minutes or so. I’d written earlier in the week that it would be spiteful to begrudge Brighton the title but there was a fair old inquest among my mates as to exactly how many soft penalties the Seagulls had required to top this table. This was also the prompt for a degree of acceptance that promotion was the ultimate goal and it had been a fine showing overall that was not to be undermined.
However, it did seem a bit anti-climactic after spending an hour as champions-elect, to be set to receive the slightly underwhelming runners-up trophy. Meanwhile, Shelvey hit the post after a mazy run, but the game was starting to have an air of second fiddle about it as people hoped against the odds for a favour from Villa. Barnsley broke and were denied by a fine stop from Elliot but still many had to tear their eyes from hand-held devices to see it.
In the dying embers of the game, a big boot forward from Elliot set in motion a truly unforgettable couple of minutes.
A Barnsley defender misjudged the bounce, allowing Mitrovic to nod on for substitute Dwight Gayle to slot in his 23rd of the season. Gayle celebrated with the “going up, going down” dance, a nice little moment on which to end the season. Then suddenly it happened.
As the cheers of celebration were dying down to warm applause, there was a second wave of explosion. Too big, too widespread to be the stuff of mischief or fantasy, it quickly caught the coat-tails of the goal celebration and the stadium erupted to another level. Villa had scored. The magnificently honourable Jack Grealish had continued to press until the final whistle and his 89th minute effort had handed Newcastle the title in brilliantly dramatic fashion.
Scream, shout, cheer, cry. Somehow in the midst of it all we had surpassed 90 minutes. No one sat down afterwards. Our game ended, another raucous cheer, but still they played at Villa. The team congregated by the dug out, huddled and waiting, as anxiety spread for what seemed like ages, then Boom! Pockets of further eruption illustrated beautifully by the wild celebrations of the clustered players. The seemingly impossible mountain of seven points had been negotiated and in the final reckoning sat at one delicious fat point in our favour. Newcastle were the champions.
I have great memories of the previous two presentation days against Ipswich and Leicester, as the already-crowned Champions paraded the trophy and celebrated their achievement. This one was the best. The ups and downs of the day culminating in an incredible minute of sheer elation gave an edge of unforgettable excitement, and even a hint that Newcastle United’s luck might just be changing.
Incredibly, the population of anti-Newcastle trolls swiftly changed their rhetoric yet again at this development, with spiteful gripes of how it took us until the last-minute of the season to win the league in spite of perceived fortunes splurged (£40 million transfer profit ya mugs). This was the latest incarnation after “aren’t even going up as champions”, “Rafa can’t manage at that level” and “Benitez won’t stay with you in the Championship”. In the case of our near neighbours some kind of dignified silence may be advisable as they contemplate their odds of trying to claim our trophy next season.
It seems some of the (Barnsley) away rabble today are part of this crew, as news of Brighton’s equaliser brought massive cheers and even saw one muppet set a flare off, for which he was swiftly ejected. His mates soon joined him outside though, with only a smattering of Yorkshire folk staying around for the presentation. I assume they must have thought it would cost money.
Now though, such matters of the Championship are behind us, and the delight at full-time was tinged with a bit of relief that we have now exited this division. The next matter of concern is the summer ahead.
Crucially, Rafa has made a point of stressing the need for patience and unity in the coming year, perhaps acknowledging that some will find a season of mid-table consolidation unpalatable, whereas it may be necessary as part of the grander long-term plan. It seems he remains convinced he can get Mike Ashley onside too, with the owner pictured post-match looking all smug with Rafa and the cup (maybe the plan was to get a few scoops in him then discuss budget?). If our manager can do that, he truly is a miracle worker.
To take the evidence of the turnaround of the past 12 months at the club from top to bottom, I’ve got faith that if anyone can do it, he can.
Thanks Rafa. We had a great day.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Barnsley 0
Newcastle: Perez 23, Mbemba 59, Gayle 90
Possession was Barnsley 44% Newcastle 56%
Total shots were Barnsley 8 Newcastle 15
Shots on target were Barnsley 3 Newcastle 8
Corners were Barnsley 4 Newcastle 10
Referee: James Linington
Elliot, Yedlin, Mbemba, Hayden (Haidara 13), Dummett, Gouffran, Colback, Shelvey (Diame 72), Atsu, Perez, Mitrovic (Gayle 80)
Darlow, Lazaar, Anita, Murphy
Crowd: 52,276 (2,789 Barnsley)
To read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle 3 Barnsley 0 go HERE
Classic! Read what Sunderland fans had to say during today’s Newcastle and Brighton matches – Go HERE
One of our writers gives his match ratings HERE
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