IT started with Steve Bruce scrambling to get a visa so he could attend his new club’s pre-season training camp in China, and will end tomorrow in late July with the Magpies giving Liverpool a guard of honour in a deserted St James’ Park. Even by Newcastle United’s surreal standards, this has been a strange old season.

As has been the case for a number of years with Newcastle, events on the field have been largely overshadowed by everything that has been going on off it. Or perhaps more pertinently, when it comes to the seemingly interminable delay over the ratification of Amanda Staveley’s proposed takeover, everything that has not been occurring.

It is disgraceful that Newcastle will be heading into their delayed summer recess with the club’s ownership situation still wholly uncertain. The Premier League’s failure to complete their owners and directors’ test in the last four-and-a-half months is a scandalous dereliction of duty, and will no doubt hamper the Magpies’ preparations for next season no matter who ends up in control.

Things have been up in the air for most of the current campaign, so it is to Bruce and his players’ credit that they are not heading into tomorrow’s final game with their Premier League status at stake. Mid-table mediocrity is not something to aspire towards, but in this season more than any other, it is an acceptable return.

It certainly didn’t look on the cards for much of the autumn, when performances were flatlining, Bruce was coming under fire from all quarters and results left Newcastle in the bottom quarter of the table.

September’s 5-0 thrashing at Leicester was the nadir, prompting the tactical tweak which ultimately did much to secure Newcastle’s survival. Yes, Bruce’s decision to revert to the five-man defensive formation that Rafael Benitez fielded last season was a controversial move, rendering the Magpies just-about-unwatchable on more than one occasion. It did the trick though, helping secure the narrow home wins over Bournemouth, Southampton and Crystal Palace that proved so crucial in the final reckoning.

Having steadied the ship at the end of last year, Bruce spent the second half of the season trying to be more expansive. Newcastle reverted to a flat back four and gradually became more creative, with Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron blossoming amid a greater sense of freedom. Saint-Maximin’s £17m signing from Nice last summer already looks like one of Newcastle’s best pieces of transfer business for many a year.

The £40m purchase of Joelinton is a rather different story, and it will be interesting to see if the Brazilian improves next season with a year’s worth of experience in English football under his belt. Given his performances so far, it is tempting to assume that he could not get any worse.

While Joelinton did not really fire, Newcastle ground out some notable results in the spring, culminating in the away win at Southampton in the week prior to lockdown that effectively secured the club’s survival. When the Magpies thrashed Sheffield United in their first game after football’s resumption in June, their job for the season was done.

Or at least it was in the league. Prior to lockdown, victories over Rochdale, Oxford (both at the second time of asking) and West Brom had secured a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals for the first time in a decade.

A home last-eight clash with Manchester City should have been one of the highlights of the season – instead, it turned out to be the dampest of damp squibs, with Bruce’s conservative team selections and tactics contributing to a tame 2-0 defeat. The Magpies manager claimed he could not afford to take Manchester City on at their own game, but in the circumstances, it felt like a real opportunity missed.

To many fans, the entire season has felt like marking off time, and ahead of the final fixture, Newcastle certainly has the feel of a club stuck in a state of limbo. On the pitch, they live to fight another day. Off it, who knows what is around the corner.