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Newcastle United go from sinking to…has it sunk in yet?

4 years ago

It’s just over a week since ‘that’ game. The game. The title. Has it sunk in yet?

I keep replaying it in my mind. It was ironic that just hours before kick-off I had Tweeted that the 4-3 against Norwich was clearly the most exciting moment of the season. That surely wouldn’t be bettered. What unfolded, surpassed it by miles.

Only Newcastle United would overhaul a seven point lead with three games to go (ED: Or throw it away!). What the hell were Brighton playing at?

As dramas go, it’s been a season that could quite easily grace Netflix. Download all 46 thrilling episodes. A season finale well worth the wait, with the cliffhanger coming right at the end of the last chapter.

Enormous credit to the manager and his players that they were able to keep the pressure on Brighton.

It is such a long season in the Championship and yet the battle for top spot went right down to the dying embers. Villa’s intervention, proof that it’s never over in football. There is always a chance and always a reason to keep plugging away.

Rafa Benitez specialises in such dramas. Anyone who witnessed the 2005 Champions League final needs to know that the man has a knack of working magic. He did it again in 2006 when he guided Liverpool to the FA Cup. Yes, there is some luck there, but managers make their own luck by getting it right.

For a boss who staked his professional reputation on a season in the second tier it was a fitting end. If Rafa had failed he’d have been derided by pundits and media. Of course the  job was actually done when promotion was bagged against Preston, bucking a trend that relegated sides rarely bounce straight back in the automatic promotion spots. Well, NUFC have done that twice, much to the chagrin of the club’s many critics.

The focus then shifted to the final games. Benitez got his ducks in a row and masterminded nine points from nine. Players focused on the job in hand while Hughton’s troops choked, when all they had to do was carefully place the cherry on top of the cake. One from nine was an epic fail for them and you only had to look at their body language at the final whistle to see it, players slumping to the turf. Finally, after so many months, they were pegged back after getting yet another soft penalty.

Make no mistake, if Newcastle had fluffed it with three games to go after being so far ahead, then we’d never have heard the last of it. The lack of coverage showed that to be true, the Sky cameras choosing the relegation battle instead.

I’d not said it publicly, so forgive me if you think I’m just making this bit up, but I genuinely had a daft feeling this season was destined to go right to the wire, especially after Brighton slipped up at Norwich.

The day itself is one that fans will quite rightly remember for many years to come. The manner of the title win made it perhaps even more memorable than the classes of 1993 and 2010.

The Noon kick-off gave the day a strange feel as it was all going to be done and dusted in time for the Sunday dinners. The morning dragged and what a damned cold day it was too, more the feel of mid-February than the first week of May.

I was lucky to get a ticket but the expectation was that it may just be a promotion party. There was no way Villa with their soft underbelly would be able to see off the Seagulls. I had no doubt we’d beat Barnsley, so it was all about the other result.

There was that moment early in the first half when a roar went around. Had Villa scored? That rumour was quickly stifled. On we pressed. Mbemba made the game safe with the second goal and it was all a giggle.

News of Brighton taking the lead killed the atmosphere and from my seat near the back of the Gallowgate it was very noticeable. The air was suddenly sucked from the arena. The tinpot second place trophy was being removed from its box.

On went the minutes. I glanced at my watch. It was just after 1.45pm. The lad next to me, for some reason I remember he had a cracked screen on his smartphone, said it was late in the game at Villa Park.

A long ball sailed up field. I glanced up, after the 200th futile attempt to refresh the scores on the BBC Sport website. Mitrovic headed the ball on for Gayle to pounce. A nice end. That would do. We were up. That was all that mattered.

A half turn to retake my seat suddenly became a surreal moment. I’ve not heard a roar like that before as news spread like wildfire. Bemused faces mingled with those of fans who knew it was true and those who thought this sort of thing just doesn’t happen for NUFC. There was indeed a goal. Villa had somehow levelled it up with ten men. You simply couldn’t make it up.

What followed was a crazy few minutes of trying to confirm it. Persistently asking the lad next to me if he knew how many minutes were left down in the Midlands. There was an older bloke on my right going wild. I suggested he hang fire until that final score was in. I’m not sure he was that impressed.

Our game then ended. There followed a wait of about two minutes which felt like twenty. It was daft really, for the sake of a few seconds we had won the Championship. Fate duly delivered.

They were wonderful scenes when that Brighton result rolled in and the lap of honour felt like something from the Bobby Robson era.

Getting the Championship winner’s trophy was vastly better than that daft pot they hand out for coming second.

Let us hope and pray that the next chapter is even better. Has it sunk in now?

You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton

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