What a year it’s been. There’s been ups and downs but Rafa and his men have pulled through, not only gaining automatic promotion back to the Premier League but winning the title in the process.
Here we look at the defining and memorable moments of Newcastle United’s 2016/17 campaign, telling the story of our Championship winning season:
Bristol City away – the first of many away wins
After losing 2 of our opening 3 games in the league, August’s trip to Ashton Gate was a big test of our promotion credentials. It wasn’t pretty but Dwight Gayle’s goal handed us a precious 0-1 win, proving to be the first of many gritty away wins.
Newcastle 2-0 Brighton – the start of our surge
A battle of the two title contenders and one we won with flying colours thanks to goals from Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey. It marked our third successive win in the league and ended Brighton’s unbeaten start to the campaign.
With Newcastle winning the league by just a point, the importance of this win isn’t lost on me – even if it was so early in the season.
QPR 0-6 Newcastle – statement of intent
Newcastle’s September hammering of QPR sent a message to the Championship. An outstanding display, seeing us win our 5th straight game in the league and consolidate our spot in the automatic promotion places.
A sparkling performance by midfield maestro Jonjo Shelvey, who’s second half strike will go down as one of the goals of the season.
The comeback of champions that killed off the Canaries
With 2 minutes to play we were 3-2 down to 2nd place Norwich and as it stood, they were set to move 7 points clear of us.
Goals in the 95th and 96th minute from Gouffran and Gayle sealed an incredible comeback, sending St. James’ Park into mass hysteria. Norwich were genuine promotion rivals at the time and this dealt them a blow they never recovered from.
Leeds 0-2 Newcastle – putting the contenders in their place
September’s trip to Elland Road saw the eagerly anticipated clash of two sleeping giants. It was a sell out and Gary Monks resurgent Leeds were fired up, hoping to get one over the league leaders.
It was a professional display that saw us move 5 points clear at the top and put promotion pushing Leeds in their place.
Battling win at Brentford – a crucial win in a bad month for the Magpies
After a dismal home defeat to Blackburn at the start of January the win at Brentford was huge. Dwight Gayle limped off in the first half, but Daryl Murphy’s late goal secured a vital 3 points in a time of need.
Not only had we lost our place at the top of the Championship, January was a frustrating month off the pitch as Benitez grew tired at the lack of transfer activity. Looking back, this was massive.
Newcastle 2-0 Aston Villa – revenge against newfound rivals
They mocked our relegation and equalised late on when we met at Villa Park earlier in the season, so this win was enjoyed immensely – also seeing us return to the top of the table and 7 points clear of 3rd.
To top things off, Henry Lansbury sealed the win with an own goal to make it 2-0. A priceless moment given his antics contributed to a contentious defeat at Nottingham Forest earlier in the season.
Brighton & Huddersfield away – our toughest test passed with flying colours
Two incredible away results in a period tipped to make or break our season. We came from behind to beat table topping Brighton at the Amex, followed by another monumental effort just 4 days later, defeating high flying Huddersfield 3-1.
It had all the makings of the week from hell, yet we emerged with two huge wins that took us 5 points clear of Brighton in 2nd and 11 clear of Huddersfield in 3rd.
Timely back to back home wins against Wigan and Burton
After our heroics at Huddersfield, we hit a wall and were 3 without a win, seeing our grip on the title and top 2 loosen.
We hand’t won back to back home games in 13 attempts since 2013 and faced up against relegation threatened Wigan and Burton. They looked like two very winnable fixtures, but given the stakes, the edgy atmosphere and our form at the time, 6 points was anything but a formality.
We weren’t at our best but ground out two vital victories that week to steady the ship after a period of struggle. Matt Ritchie was the hero once again, sealing wins in both games with second half strikes.
Given we picked up just one point in our next two against Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, the importance of these two victories can’t be underestimated.
Promotion against Preston and frantic final day
Sealing promotion in a 4-1 win over Preston was a special night at St. James’. The title looked a long shot at this stage, but there was a feeling of mission complete and a sigh of relief amongst supporters, as Newcastle appeared to be doing their best to throw promotion away after a dismal defeat at Ipswich last time out.
After a string of Brighton defeats, the final day of the season saw us in with a surprise chance of winning the title. We did our jobs in a convincing 3-0 win over Barnsley, but had to better Brighton’s result to be crowned Champions.
Just as Dwight Gayle scored Newcatle’s third, news filtered in that Aston Villa had equalised at the death, creating scenes of joy and jubilation at St. James’ – we were the champions!
An incredible final day and the icing on the cake of a fantastic season.