Newcastle United enjoyed one of their best nights in recent years as Easter Monday saw their return to the Premier League confirmed. In the past few weeks it has looked like a dead cert but at last the waiting is over and the club’s long suffering supporters can enjoy a rare moment of success.
By virtue of Nottingham Forest’s goalless draw with Cardiff the Magpies already had their immediate top flight return guaranteed without a ball being kicked in anger. A near capacity crowd flocked to St James’ Park to join with the players and backroom staff to celebrate a season of success. The statistics certainly make for pleasant reading from a Newcastle supporters point of view. With five games still left to play they only need 11 more points to reach the magical 100-point mark. They have only suffered four defeats all term, have broken the club record for most clean sheets in a season and are on course to go unbeaten at home all year. At times that record was under threat against a determined Sheffield United side but an acrobatic winner from Championship Player of the Year Kevin Nolan was a fitting way to finish off the evening.
Of course manager Chris Hughton must take a lot of the credit for steering Newcastle through some troublesome waters into the Promised Land. In the summer he inherited a side that lacked unity and leadership. After a 6-1 hammering away at Leyton Orient in a pre-season friendly many felt it would be a season of struggle for Newcastle. But in a way that result seemed to drive the Magpies on to the heights they have managed to achieve. Hughton has instilled discipline and defensive solidarity into a club that was often laughed at for their defensive problems. He has also carried out some decent business on the transfer front with the signings of Wayne Routledge and Mike Williamson in particular boosting Newcastle at the turn of the year. Speaking after the game Hughton said: “This is a wonderful achievement and were delighted to be back in the Premier League. It’s testament to the job that has been done here this season for which all the players and staff and people behind the scenes can take credit for. But the season isn’t over, we still have several games that we need to prepare for properly and finish the season on a high.” As the players and staff remained on the pitch after the final whistle Hughton’s name was sung from the rafters. He has managed to win over a large majority of the club’s skeptical supporters since the beginning of the season.
The target now must be to secure the Championship title as it would be a shame to end a great season with no silverware to show for it. Newcastle now hold a six point lead over West Brom with a game in hand on them as well. Hughton must surely prioritise winning the league title over giving some of the club’s reserves and promising youngsters a chance in the first team. Their 2-1 win over Sheffield United was enough to see the Magpies further extend their lead at the top by two points. Like so many of their games this season they never really hit the heights but were still good enough to come away with a win. With promotion secure Newcastle’s players made a slow start to the first-half and appeared almost too relaxed with promotion already secured. There were a number of lapses at the back and at times the passing was too casual. It took a controversial penalty to get Newcastle back into the game which was coolly converted by Peter Lovenkrands. Nolan’s glorious overhead kick was yet another fine effort by the goal scoring midfielder. After the final whistle he said: “It’s unbelievable to win the game after going 1-0 down, that felt like an anticlimax, but we got through, we’ve gone through a tough 10 months but we’ve got games left and we want to go on and win it (the title). We’re going to enjoy this but we want to go unbeaten through the whole season at home and we want the title.