With just a few games left to play, the promotion and relegation places are beginning to be settled and it was the Championship that saw the most excitement over the Easter weekend. At the happy end of the league table, Newcastle were able to celebrate promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt, whereas Peterborough’s stay in the second tier has proved to be just as short lived. A 2-2 draw at Barnsley means that Posh will be playing League One football again next season.
Saturday’s late kick-off at St. James Park was a scene of celebration from the offset, as Chris Hughton’s side were able to toast their season’s work without having to even kick a ball. Nottingham Forest’s earlier goalless draw with Cardiff meant that the Toon Army could not finish outside the automatic spots. The party continued long into the night following another deserved victory over Sheffield United, ensuring that Newcastle are now that bit closer to sealing the league title. Currently leading West Brom by six points, the Magpies have five games to play, one more than their nearest rivals. It seems unlikely that they will be caught now.
Chris Hughton’s side will no doubt be seeking to crown the campaign with the Championship title, but attention will soon turn to their return to the Premier League. The question now is, do they have a side capable of being competitive and avoiding an immediate return to the Football League. The simple answer to this is that they do. Hughton is in the fortunate position of having been backed by the club’s owners. Much of the side that has achieved promotion were part of the team who suffered relegation last year. There is a wealth of Premier League experience in the squad which has proven invaluable. The likes of Kevin Nolan, Steven Taylor and Nicky Butt to name just a few have played at the highest level and could grace most team sheets in the top flight. Coupled with the additions this season of players such as Leon Best and Mike Williamson, this is a squad bursting with experience, talent and ambition. Following the departure of Damien Duff in August, many felt that the big name players would all be heading for the exit. The management staff have been well supported by the board however, and being able to keep the experience in the squad has been a key factor in their success this campaign.
Of course there will be new faces brought in over the summer, as it is essential to freshen up a squad and strengthen wherever possible. However, there is every reason to suspect that Newcastle will be competitive in the Premier League again next term. A push for Europe may be beyond them, but they should find themselves comfortably steering clear of the drop.
Newcastle were not the only club to have their fate sealed at the weekend however, as Jim Gannon’s Peterborough side were denied an invaluable three points by a late Barnsley leveller at Oakwell, consigning them to a return to League One. Relegation was on the cards for a long time for the London Road side, and indeed it proved to be a matter of when and not if their fate would be confirmed. Easter Monday’s game was also the last of Jim Gannon’s short tenure at the helm. The former Stockport boss had already made his feelings known that he would not stay on beyond the end of the current campaign, and Darragh MacAnthony and Barry Fry have moved quickly to appoint his successor.
Former Bristol City boss Gary Johnson has been appointed manager at London Road and will lead the side in their bid for an immediate return to the Championship. The Peterborough faithful have every reason to look forward to next season with optimism as Johnson’s credentials speak for themselves. He enjoyed great success with Yeovil following his spell in charge of the Latvian national side, and led Bristol City to the verge of the Premier League, losing out in the playoff final against Hull. Clearly Johnson is a man who knows how to get the best out of a side in the Football League, but with his new squad having no shortage of admirers, how much he achieves at Peterborough will surely come down to what sort of squad he has at his disposal next term.