TODAY marks the day seven years ago when thousands of Newcastle United supporters invaded the pitch at Plymouth’s Home Park to celebrate lifting the Championship title.
Promotion was achieved under the guidance of Chris Hughton, who is on the verge of repeating the success by going up in style with Brighton this time around too.
Going up has always been the aim of Rafael Benitez and his players this season and, despite suffering from a late bout of nerves in the run-in, that should still be achieved.
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If Huddersfield lose to Fulham on Saturday and Newcastle follow that up by defeating Preston on Monday then a Premier League return will have effectively been achieved, regardless of how Reading get on at struggling Nottingham Forest.
There will be satisfaction and celebration, but there is no disguising that this promotion winning season – if that’s how things turn out – has not gone quite as smoothly as the Class of 2010.
Benitez still has every right to be proud of his players, after all relegated teams often find it hard to bounce straight back up to the top-flight at the very first attempt regardless of how much money he spent (and still made a sizeable profit after player sales).
But the Spaniard’s team will not have done it in style, which is why Brighton have taken control in the race for the title that Hughton got his hands on with Newcastle on April 19, 2010 at Plymouth.
Newcastle won 13 of their unbeaten final 16 fixtures that year, including the seventh win in a row when they made the long trip south to Devon.
This time, unless Benitez ensures his players power to three comfortable victories in a row to finish, there has been no signal of intent. There are even a few nerves flying around that their slump could end in them slipping out of the top two.
When Newcastle overcame Plymouth seven years ago they still had two matches remaining and boasted 98 points. They picked up four further points against Ipswich and QPR to break the 100-point barrier.
Benitez will lead his team into the 44th game winless in three and sitting on 85 points, having won just two of the last eight games. No wonder Huddersfield and Reading are still retaining hope of sneaking into the top two.
Were Hughton’s Class of 2010 that much better than Benitez’s boys over the course of their respective seasons? Here’s a look at the team which beat Plymouth and the one that could face Preston on Monday.
April 19, 2010
Plymouth 0 Newcastle United 2
Despite the emergence of Tim Krul, the experienced Harper made the shirt his own and played 45 times to provide a solid base behind the defence. Now retired and coaching.
Was a regular presence down the right after arriving on loan from Manchester United before signing permanently in the January. Won the Premier League with Leicester last season.
Only played seven times after his loan from QPR and the Plymouth game was his last. He was back-up to the impressive Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson. Retired in the summer of 2014, now a football consultant for an agency.
After arriving from Portsmouth in a £3m deal in the January, he quickly became first choice and forged a strong partnership with Coloccini to make 16 appearances. Injuries have ruined his career since moving to Wolves, where he is still contracted.
His Newcastle career got the kickstart it required and he played regularly down the left. After a further impressive season he moved to Liverpool for £5m. Has since gone to Zaragoza.
Was an important player at the start of the season and at the end, but between September and March he was sidelined through injury. Has since has spells with Marseille, QPR and Rangers, now with Burnley. Rating: 6
Ensured Barton wasn’t missed by turning in a string of competent and effective midfield performances during the promotion winning campaign, playing 43 times. Now with Blackburn.
Led by example in the middle, scoring 18 times along the way. His experience and leadership qualities proved crucial. He’s the manager at Notts County in League Two.
Scored three times after arriving from QPR in the January. Quickly held down his first team place before moving back to QPR a year later. Playing with Swansea in the Premier League these days.
Another regular in the side under Hughton and reliable without being a goal-threat. Didn’t score in his 35 outings that season. The 36-year-old is with Nolan at Meadow Lane.
Scored the 18th of his 19 goals at Plymouth during a season that made big clubs take notice. The following January he moved to Liverpool for a record-busting £35m and is now at West Ham. Rating: 9
OVERALL TEAM RATING: 80
April 24, 2017
Newcastle United v Preston North End (likely team)
Didn’t start the season in goal but has made the position his own since replacing Matz Sels. Has cost his side a few goals but overall he has had a sound season.
Has figured 30 times this season even though he has had a battle with DeAndre Yedlin for the right-back role. The little midfielder has shown his versatility.
The 23-year-old was made the team’s young captain at the start of the season and has been the voice on the pitch and in the dressing room. Has had his fair share of errors as well as good displays though.
Forced himself ahead of Chancel Mbemba and Grant Hanley after his arrival from Aston Villa. Has been the most consistent of the centre-backs.
The academy graduate has become an important player down the left for the Magpies, who have looked less convincing down that side when he hasn’t played.
The 22-year-old had a fine start to the season after moving from Arsenal but injury has cost him more appearances and the side. Has not been at his best in 2017.
Even though he has been quieter in recent months since his five-match ban, the midfielder has often rightly been lauded as one of the best players in the division.
While Shelvey has dipped, Ritchie has taken centre stage. When the £12m signing plays well, so do Newcastle and he will be more than capable of playing in the Premier League.
The African midfielder has admitted himself that he has struggled to hit his best form at Newcastle, like he did with Hull, West Ham and Wigan. Still a regular though.
The Frenchman’s performances might put him in contention for a new contract at the end of the season, even though he has not been as impressive in the second half of the campaign. Still has seven goals from 43 appearances.
His 22 goals from 33 appearances have been crucial in the promotion run-in. He has missed a number of games through injury and Newcastle have not been the same without him.
OVERALL TEAM RATING: 77