United wrapped up promotion in style with a comprehensive win in front of yet another 50k+ Championship crowd at a chilly SJP. Ciaran Clark came back into the side with Mitrovic and, surprisingly Rob Eliott back in net and after our perfect weekend of results the stage was set for us to return back to the top flight.
With less than ten minutes on the clock, that return looked to be a formality when Perez put us one ahead. Ritchie whipped a corner in and from the slightest of flicks from Lascelles, Perez got there first along with Ciaran Clark to almost jointly shin the ball home. Any thoughts of a breeze to the three points were swiftly extinguished though as Preston came back strongly immediately from the goal to have the better of the rest of the half. Johnson had a great chance to level when he was played in behind the static Anita (who had a nightmare in the first period) with only Eliott to beat, but the keeper stood tall to make a great stop from what looked like a guaranteed equaliser.
The visitors didn’t have to wait long though and were level after quarter of an hour. Barkhuizen, who tortured our defence in the opening period with his pace, found himself out wide with time to measure a lovely floated ball in to Hugill, who converted his chance from six yards out with our centre halves all at sea. We looked disjointed after their goal and they posed a threat every time they broke forward, meaning that it was slightly against the run of play when we went back ahead almost on the half time whistle. Hayden was the architect, winning the ball in the middle before playing in Mitrovic. Credit to the Serb too as he chose to calmly square the ball into the path of Atsu, who easily finished the move inside the box to send us in ahead.
We were much the better side after the restart but the result was put to bed just after the hour mark, when we won a penalty and saw Preston reduced to ten men when Gallagher flung himself across the goal to make a fine save with both hands from a Hayden effort, seizing on the rebound from Lascelles’ header from a corner. It was the most blatant red card you could ever see and despite the umming and aahing of Madley’s appointment given his background, he’s actually been probably the most competent ref we’ve had this season. Hell, he didn’t even award an indirect free kick, place Matt Ritchie on the Sex Offenders Register and rule that the next three matches should be placed behind closed doors when our magic winger (Player of the Season by the way) slotted him the penalty in fine style.
Within a minute, we’d got our fourth in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Shelvey’s inswinging free kick was sliced against the post by a Preston defender and the ball spun off straight into the chest of Ayoze Perez, who nudged the ball in from a yard out without knowing much about it. The little Spaniard has improved towards the final third of the season and could (given our likely resources) be a really important player for us next season and he deserved his goals tonight. Gouffran, Colback and Murphy all made an appearance late on but we never really went for the jugular as we were happy to see the game out in front of an appreciative crowd.
The defining image of the season came after the final whistle blew and almost all of the ground stayed back to applaud the team off, saving the biggest cheer for Rafa, who acknowledged the Gallowgate and left numerous hairs standing on the back of numerous necks. Let’s face it, United haven’t given us too many moments of unbridled happiness in the last decade and a bit, but that was certainly one of them and no-one can underestimate the gratitude we feel towards the manager for dragging the team down the right fork in the road over the past nine months.
There is so much work still to be done but for now, we’ll not dwell on that. This is the fourth promotion in my lifetime and whilst I doubt that 83-84 and 92-93 will never be matched for different reasons, this is perhaps the most important one we’ve ever achieved. And achieve it we have, through toil, effort and a masterclass in management from Senor Benitez.
Get the f**k in.
Keep the Faith
GARETH HARRISON – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892
The new issue of true faith (TF130) is out now and can be downloaded for you at your leisure. There is more than 90+ pages of the finest fanzine writing in the UK from Newcastle United’s oldest and longest running fanzine with the biggest readership of any fanzine in the UK. The fanzine is available exclusively in digital format but maintains the old school design and feel which was much-loved for so long in its hard copy days. The true faith fanzine is completely and totally FREE of charge and you can download it instantly no matter where you are in the world. true faith is put together by people who pay to watch Newcastle United home and away as well as a select bunch of ex-pats and those who support our beloved club in the flesh where and when they can. Our writers come in all shapes and sizes – all ages, genders, races and so long as you love United you will do for us.
You can download true faith on any device you like and you’ll get great results. However, we do recommend a tablet or i-pad to recreate the old school feel i.e. you can read it on the netty or stretched out on the sofa or on the bus to work, school, college, opium den or speakeasy.
From everyone who helps put together Newcastle United’s most prominent fanzine together, we all hope you really enjoy this issue.