THE Premier League is over – now, it is over to the Premier League. While Newcastle United’s on-field commitments might be finished for the season, questions over their off-field future remain frustratingly unresolved.

Steve Bruce’s side signed off a campaign that has stretched into late July with a 3-1 defeat to champions Liverpool, a result that came despite Dwight Gayle’s first-minute opener and means they finish in 13th position, the same position they inhabited at the end of last season.

It has felt as though they have been treading water for much of the last 12 months, and pretty much everything they have done since the end of lockdown in late June has certainly been an irrelevance. While the rest of the footballing world has cranked back into life, Newcastle have remained in a state of debilitating inertia.

The Premier League have the power to break the deadlock which has existed since April, but the governing body show no sign of bringing their seemingly interminable owners and directors’ test to an end. Until that situation changes, and Amanda Staveley either completes her £300m buyout of Mike Ashley or is forced to accept defeat in her attempt to seize control at St James’ Park, little else that happens will be of any significant consequence.

To that end, the sight of Newcastle’s players rounding off the season in front of four towering empty stands seemed fitting. At every other venue, the lack of any supporters or atmosphere has felt jarring. On Tyneside, Newcastle has felt like a ghost club for quite some time now.

The hope is that when supporters return next season, they will be celebrating the start of a new dawn. The fear, as Staveley’s Saudi Arabia-backed consortium waits to learn its fate, is that it will be more of the same even if fans are allowed back into the ground. Either way, a decision is required to enable Newcastle to move on.

With the fate of Staveley’s proposed takeover still completely uncertain, it remains to be seen whether yesterday’s game proves to be Steve Bruce’s last as the manager of his hometown team. The chances of Bruce still being in charge when the new season begins on September 12 increase with every day that passes without a verdict from the Premier League, and with the current campaign now complete, the Magpies manager will spend the first week of the close season trying to push forward some of his transfer plans.

He will be preparing for next season without Matty Longstaff, with the Geordie midfielder’s absence from yesterday’s squad effectively representing the final nail in the coffin when it comes to the chances of the 20-year-old striking a last-minute agreement over a new deal. Longstaff’s dramatic debut winner against Manchester United provided one of the highlights of the season – it says much about the current state of things at St James’ that he will be departing so acrimoniously.

What of the three players that arrived on loan in January? All three were involved yesterday, and provided Daniel Levy does not dig his heels in too much, there is a good chance of Danny Rose joining Newcastle on a permanent basis this summer. Bruce likes Valentino Lazaro, but the consensus among the Magpies’ recruitment team is that he is not worth the £20m that Inter Milan insisted would be the buyout clause in his contract. Similarly, while Bruce appreciates the role Nabil Bentaleb has performed since the turn of the year, the feeling at the moment is that there will be better value-for-money alternatives to the Algerian in this summer’s transfer market.

Bruce will spend the summer looking to secure an attacking upgrade, but for once, there are unlikely to be too many stories linking Gayle with a move away from St James’ Park. The striker has been a forgotten man for much of his Newcastle career, and was on loan at West Brom on the final weekend of last season, but his performances since the end of lockdown have suggested he is more than the ‘good Championship goalscorer’ he is often portrayed as.

He went into yesterday’s game having scored three goals in his eight appearances since football’s resumption in June, and needed just 24 seconds to add his tally.

It was a remarkable start, with Virgil van Dijk’s foul on Allan Saint-Maximin handing Newcastle a free-kick in the Liverpool half. Thinking on his feet, Jonjo Shelvey clipped a quick pass into Gayle’s path, and having burst clear of a daydreaming Liverpool defence, the forward lofted a neat finish past an advancing Allison. As had been the case in the reverse game at Anfield in the autumn, Newcastle boasted an early lead against the champions.

Back in September, it did not take Jurgen Klopp’s side long to cancel out Jetro Willems’ spectacular opener. Yesterday, Liverpool’s efforts were initially much more laboured, a somewhat understandable result of Klopp’s decision to rest so many of his leading lights.

Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were all on the substitutes’ bench, and in their place, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi took a while to make much of an impression against Newcastle’s five-man defence.

That said, Liverpool’s attacking play improved markedly as the first half wore on, and by the time the champions equalised seven minutes before the interval, Newcastle found themselves well and truly on the back foot.

Liverpool would have levelled shortly before the half-hour mark had Martin Dubravka not produced the kind of save that has made him one of the Magpies’ most influential performers this season, with the Slovakian hurling himself to his right to turn Minamino’s goal-bound effort around the post.

He was beaten ten minutes later, though, as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s burst of pace down the right proved decisive. The England international burst past Rose to stand up a cross to the back post, and having initially advanced upfield for a corner, Virgil van Dijk looped a fine header into the far corner.

Van Dijk threatened again at the star of the second half, this time heading into Dubravka’s hands, and Liverpool claimed a deserved lead shortly before the hour mark.

Picking up the ball from Andy Robertson, Origi cut across Javier Manquillo before bending a fine low strike into the bottom right-hand corner.

Trailing with half-an-hour left, Newcastle’s task hardly became any easier when Klopp turned to his bench. Introducing Mane, Salah and Firmino, the Liverpool boss appeared to be revelling in the embarrassment of riches at his disposal.

In the opposite dug-out, Bruce had to turn to Joelinton, Sean Longstaff and Andy Carroll. Unsurprisingly, it was the Liverpool’s substitutes who had the greatest impact.

Salah hit the base of the post with a shot from inside the box, before Mane capped his side’s magnificent season in fittingly sublime style. Cutting in from the left in the 89th minute, the Senegal international curled a brilliant finish past Dubravka and into the bottom corner.