Newcastle United football club claimed the league title today after an extraordinary last day of football in the EFL Championship.
For Newcastle promotion had already been sealed over a week earlier but with back to back victories over Preston and then Cardiff coupled with Brighton’s inability to take the three points they needed from either of their two previous games the title was somehow still up from grabs.
What unfolded was one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments. Something those who were at the game are unlikely ever to forget.
The supporting cast for this final performance at St James Park would be a Barnsley side with nothing to play for with a comfortable mid table place long since secured.
For Newcastle they knew that they would have to do their job and then rely on others.
STARTING XI: Elliot, Yedlin, Hayden (Haidara, 13), Mbemba, Dummett, Atsu, Shelvey (Diame, 72), Colback, Gouffran, Perez (Gayle, 80), Mitrovic
Rafa said after the game he’d wanted to allow some of his players to say ‘goodbye’ but that the early substitution of Hayden after taking a knock to the head had meant he couldn’t do everything he wanted. You have to wonder if his word ‘goodbye’ was lost in translation and it was more to do with signing off this season - or is good bye what he meant. Left on the bench were Lazaar, Anita, Darlow and Murphy, whilst those who played today did all they needed to do.
Barnsley, for their part, didn’t come to roll over and let Newcastle have a party. They, and ta couple of thousand travelling fans, made for a cracking contest. And but for the nervous watching of phones and straining necks to look at press screens there would have be nothing else to distract from some great action on the pitch.
After a good early start from the visitors, where for the first 5 minutes NUFC struggled to get any control of the game, it was the men down Newcastle’s right that would start to show some real impact.
Indeed that would be where the breakthrough would come from on 23 minutes. Arguably Christian Atsu, DeAndre Yedlin and Ayoze Perez have lacked a bit of the Premier League quality that was expected of them this season. Not today though. And it was Yedlin who would be the creator of the first goal as his run and cross would find Perez in the box and with one deft touch the ball was in the back of the Barnsley goal. Newcastle were on their way.
Rumours then circulated around the ground that Brighton had gone one behind but further celebrations were cut short as news filtered through that an Aston Villa goal had actually been disallowed at Villa Park.
With Newcastle now in control and with Brighton still level in Birmingham there were nervous smiles at half time as the Toon fans dared to dream. Everyone in St James Park knew that Newcastle had to find a better result than what ever Brighton managed at Villa. At half time it was game on.
Into the second half and Newcastle would have a number of chances to extend the lead before finally settling the nerves completely with a rare goal from Chancel Mbemba. A Newcastle set piece from the right at the Gallowgate end would not be cleared allowing our centre half to smash home his first of the season.
Before that the home side could have been out of sight. Atsu having a great game had tested Davies a number of times and the Barnsley stopper had also kept out a fine Colback effort.
Then came the news Newcastle fans were dreading. Brighton had scored with just over an hour gone at Villa Park. To make matters worse Villa had a man sent off in the awarding of the penalty that had lead to Brighton’s goal. Title dreams dashed at St James Park, much to the delight of the travelling Barnsley fans, who celebrated the news as if their own team had scored.
A quite surreal atmosphere in St James’ now but the home fans would rally themselves to pay tribute to their manager and the players for their hard work and promotion this season. And with Gayle on for the last few minutes there was another moment to savour as Mitrovic’s flicked header was expertly slotted home by the Newcastle United number 9. The cheeky ‘going down - going up’ celebration from the Newcastle striker would also please the home fans as Newcastle made it 3-0 with 90 minutes on the clock.
But with the fans still celebrating the Gayle goal a second, even louder celebration started to travel around the ground. Amongst the confusion it was said that Villa had equalised at Villa Park. Frantic fans now scrambled for confirmation with internet coverage saturated and virtually no communication with the outside world.
The news was true. As was the feeling of both excitement and trepidation that would accompany what would now feel like a lifetime waiting for the final whistle at Villa Park.
Newcastle’s game had finished. Players wondered the pitch almost bemused as to what was going on. Silence fell in our ground.
Joy unbounded. Ecstasy, screaming, delight, hugs, shouting, smiles and maybe the odd tear.
The PA system in the ground confirmed what was already becoming apparent.
We’d only gone and bloody done it.
Players and fans alike went mental.
A day that will live forever in the memory of everyone who had the privilege of being there. What a day. History made!