It was a real team effort when Newcastle United eased to promotion and put the icing on the cake when winning the second tier title on the final day.
However, there were individuals who stood out above the rest.
At the back, Ciaran Clark was Newcastle’s stand out player, whilst Jamaal Lascelles saw his form tail off in the second half of the season, only to then reveal he’d played through the pain barrier and put off an operation until promotion was secured.
Of the front six, there was little doubt who the star trio were.
Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey head and shoulders above the rest.
Maybe no surprise as all three had played in the Premier League and indeed were bought from Premier League teams.
If leaving Mitrovic out of the equation (which Rafa Benitez usually did…), those three were also the most expensive in the team.
It would be harsh to blame them for Newcastle’s struggles this season but I think this trio do sum up United’s problems.
Basically they are not good enough to do it in the Premier League, or at least not good enough to do what is being asked of them in the top tier.
Have a look at these statistics as we head towards the point of being two thirds of the way through this Premier League season.
In the Championship he scored 23 goals and got 2 assists, in the Premier League he currently has 3 goals and 1 assist.
In the Championship he scored 5 goals and got 8 assists, in the Premier League he currently has 0 goals and 0 assists.
In the Championship he scored 12 goals and got 7 assists, in the Premier League he currently has 0 goals and 5 assists.
For Ritchie, it is almost a carbon copy of what happened at Bournemouth. In their 2014/15 Championship winning season, he scored 15 goals and got 17 assists, then when stepping up to the Premier League he got 4 goals and 6 assists.
I do like Ritchie but if you are honest, he has been really poor in open play. I think almost all of his five assists have been from set-pieces, which is still great, but that can’t be the sum total of what you contribute going forward.
Maybe yesterday against Swansea summed it up, as both Shelvey and Ritchie were desperate to take all the corners and free-kicks, as that is what they are most capable of doing.
Bottom line is that all three of them, including Dwight Gayle aren’t good enough, as I said above. Though we do have to put it in context, in terms of what has been expected of them this campaign.
We all know Rafa was let down in the summer transfer window but so were the players who had won promotion.
I think Shelvey, Gayle and Ritchie had the right, along with the fans, to expect better quality to be bought in to support them, instead we had Rafa having to scratch around to fill gaps with players no better than the average in the existing squad.
If Newcastle had added three better quality players in the front six, then Gayle, Shelvey and Ritchie would be playing supporting roles, rather than having been expected to carry others.
The players who are playing alongside them are ones who struggled to stand out in the Championship.
Christian Atsu (only 15 Championship starts) struggled to get a game ahead of the very average Gouffran.
Ayoze Perez and Mohamed Diame constantly swapped in the second striker/extra midfielder role, as neither convinced.
Isaac Hayden did ok but did share the starts with Jack Colback.
Then instead of a star striker being brought in, we have a Stoke reserve £5m bargain in Joselu. Great attitude and all that but hardly lifting the quality.
Simple fact is that players play better with better players alongside them, if they have weaker ones alongside who aren’t good enough for that level, it drags them down.
Shelvey, Gayle and Ritchie are too good for the Championship but in the Premier League they needed better players than them to come in and take the lead. They would become the workers/support act, rather than the stars.
Mikel Merino has got a lot of promise but he is only 21, has had injury problems, and this is his first full season in a top flight. He needs help/support, rather than any expectation he can play the main role.
We of course have the same issues at the back but in Jamaal Lascelles we have a player who has grown with the responsibility and tougher task of the Premier League.
Then alongside him we have Ciaran Clark who has done ok, little surprise maybe as along with Lascelles’ support/influence, Clark is also Newcastle’s most experienced Premier League player.
However, the likes of Dummett, Manquillo, Lejeune aren’t good enough to be first choice, whilst DeAndre Yedlin is a great competitor and one of Newcastle’s better performers but doesn’t have that star quality either. We also have two goalkeepers who aren’t Premier League number ones.
Of course, like everything else, it all comes back to the same central problem. Mike Ashley and his refusal to back Rafa with the signings he needed.
I reckon another £40m (the profit Rafa made for Ashley in the summer 2016 transfer window) and Benitez could have brought in four players (using the extra £40m to buy better players instead of Manquillo, Atsu, Joselu etc and using the cash invested in them) better than anybody else in our squad, with the possible exception of Jamaal Lascelles.
What it would have meant as well is that then you don’t necessarily have to spend as much the next season, as you already have these better quality players if signings work out.
Like anything else in life, if you buy quality then it tends to give a better performance and doesn’t constantly need replaced.
False economy yet again from Mike Ashley, buying bargains that aren’t really up to the job and that will end up proving more expensive for the club in the long-term.