A memorable afternoon saw us lift the Championship trophy against all the odds in front of an ecstatic SJP crowd. Rafa started with Hayden at centre half but was forced into an early change after a clash of heads saw the player try to carry on only to be sick moments later, bringing Haidara on for a rare sighting.
We were the better side throughout and took the lead through a lovely move half way through the first half. A crisp passing move was finished off with a lovely backheel by Perez in front of the Leazes, a similar goal to the one he scored down at West Brom a couple of years back and from that point on the result was never in doubt. Atsu in particular was having a field day in the first half and he got to the byline on a couple of occasions to create good chances, whilst Shelvey fired just wide. A false alarm from the Gallowgate Corner saw the crowd celebrating a disallowed Villa goal but we still went in at half time on course for the title with Brighton being held.
Our game was put to bed on the hour, when the impressive Mbemba got on the end of a cross inside the box to lash home our second and celebrate with the corner but news filtered through from Villa Park of a Brighton penalty, subsequently converted and a sending off for Villa. The Barnsley fans celebrated and set off what looked like a red party popper, bless them and for the first time in the afternoon, the atmosphere fell a bit flat.
We still continued to push for a third and it finally came in the final minute from substitute Dwight Gayle, who bundled in his finish before celebrating with a ‘going up/going down’ gesture to the Gallowgate – the lad’s goals have sent us up this season and he’s had a great first term with United. Almost as he was running back to the centre circle, a roar went up as news filtered through of a Villa equaliser which meant the title was ours.
Our game finished before that one and the players stayed on the pitch for a nervous minute before confirmation came through that Villa had done us a very unlikely favour and our total of 94 points was enough to see us crowned Champions, to wild celebrations on and off the pitch. The players were announced back on to the pitch in alphabetical order (which wasn’t actually alphabetical at all, but hey, who’s counting!) to hold the trophy aloft on a hastily erected stage on the centre circle.
The trophy is thoroughly deserved for a great effort this season. It’s been a slog at times, the officiating has been laughable and it’s tested the stamina of fans and players alike at times but I’ll look back fondly on the season. We’ve had some great aways, some memorable victories at SJP and of course, we’ve had Rafa at the helm, leading us back to the top flight at the first time of asking after some had questioned whether we’d go the other way.
Next season will be a different task entirely and it can only be hoped that the watching Mike Ashley can see that he’s on to a winner in the manager and capitalise on the feel good factor which is clearly back on Tyneside. There’ll be some sore heads this morning, but some smiles aswell – United are back.
Keep the Faith
Gareth Harrison – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892
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