Newcastle United finished a season that exceeded all expectations with a breathtaking performance against last years Champions Chelsea. The Magpies outfought and outclassed the blues in every department running out 3-0 winners at a sun soaked St James Park.
Goals from Gayle and a brace from Perez were the highlights as Rafa and his charges claimed 10th place and a top half finish in the Premier League.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Hayden, 72), Shelvey, Diame (Haidara, 87), Murphy, Perez, Gayle (Joselu, 48)
Just a few weeks ago, with Newcastle reaching the 41 point mark, Rafa Benitez had spoken about ringing the changes for the remaining games. With his side facing a fifth straight loss and with 10th place and a top half position up for grabs the gaffa would again go for his strongest lineup. Only Kenedy was missing from what most would consider to be our best side. He, of course, being absent as being ineligible to play against his parent club.
Missing such a talent mattered little. Newcastle were irresistible from the first whistle.
“We deserved to lose because our start wasn’t good and we suffered by losing every ball. Newcastle were more determined than us” said Conte after the game. Yep. That about covers it.
If you’d just landed from Mars and were told one of these two clubs was Champions last year you’d have picked the one in black and white.
Form Dubravka, who had so little to do you’d have forgiven him for not making the outstanding save he did make when called upon. To Diame, who made Kante look ordinary in midfield. To Gayle. Yes, even Newcastle’s misfiring front man managed to outperform his opposite number.
It’s hard to tell if Chelsea were abject of their own accord or if Newcastle made them look like that. Both we’d say.
Newcastle’s took 9 minutes to register their first of 22 shots in this one. Chelsea only managed 8 all game. From that point on it was pretty much a siege. Shelvey, Diame twice and Murphy all went close before Gayle got the opener. A fantastic ball into Murphy saw the young wingers first touch bounce over the keeper who could only palm the ball out to the waiting number 9 to nod home.
Newcastle would have a number of great chances to extend their lead in the first half with Shelvey firing wide when well placed being the best of them. Courtois vocal in his fury at his stuttering defensive cover.
The performance in that first half equaled the outstanding support from the over 52,000 crowd. Yet again Wor Flags contributing to a quite amazing visual and vocal display.
Chelsea seemed a little better at the start of the second half but Newcastle stood firm as Hazard in particular tried to drag his team back into a game that, should they have won and Liverpool lost, would have secured Champions League football.
On 59 minutes any hope of a comeback for Conte and his men was well and truly buried. A shot from the outstanding Shelvey went straight to the feet of Perez inside the Chelsea box and his deft touch diverted the ball into the corner of the net.
Four minutes later the Chelsea fans started to file out of St James Park to make an early train. Whilst they may have held out some hope that their team could get back from 2-0 down there was no way back from 3-0. This time a Shelvey free kick found Lejeune who’s centre was tapped in by Perez again. His 10th of the season and the only player for make double figures this season for the Toon.
With that the game was gone. The Ole’s followed as did the constant chanting of Rafa’s name.
A wonderful finish to an outstanding season with every one of the home fans staying back to enjoy a ‘lap of appreciation’ from the team and staff.
#InRafaWeTrust we say. Damn right!