We did some good business in the transfer market but our first signing would turn out to be a disappointment, goalkeeper Matz Sels joined from Gent whilst two days later, we lost Andros Townsend to Crystal Palace (which I was gutted about) but Dwight Gayle came the other way with Matt Ritchie joining from Bournemouth to replace Townsend. A week later, Jesus Gamez came in from Atletico Madrid three days before Isaac Hayden (who spent 2015/16 on loan at Hull) was signed from Arsenal. Rafa Benitez would then sign Blackburn captain Grant Hanley a day before Georginio Wijnaldum was unsurprisingly sold to Liverpool for £25m.
In the week leading up to the season opener at Fulham, Ciaran Clark and Mohamed Diame joined from Aston Villa and Hull respectively but Matt Smith headed in the only goal just before half-time to condemn us to a 1-0 loss, our sixth successive loss at Craven Cottage and left us temporarily bottom of the Championship. Diame made his debut in the first home game of the season against Huddersfield but struggled as we were beaten 2-1 in what would be Daryl Janmaat’s final game for the club before moving to Watford soon afterwards. Vurnon Anita (who struggled on the wing in the first two games) was moved back to right-back for the visit of Reading with Yoan Gouffran making a surprise start as Janmaat was dropped to the bench and we won 4-1 with summer signings Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle (who scored twice) all netted their first Magpies goals. Gayle scored again to give us a 1-0 win at Bristol City three days later whilst the EFL Cup second round home tie against Cheltenham saw Aleksandar Mitrovic forced off through injury on his return from suspension with Dwight Gayle and Rolando Aarons also ruled out the Brighton game four days later thanks to their injuries but Ayoze Perez’s double sent us through to round three.
Whilst Janmaat left the club, DeAndre Yedlin (who spent 2015/16 on loan at rivals Sunderland) joined from Tottenham to replace the Dutchman and despite the injuries, we moved up to fourth with a 2-0 win over Brighton thanks to goals from new captain Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey. A day later, Daryl Murphy was signed from Ipswich whilst Achraf Lazaar joined from Palermo later the same day. Deadline day saw Christian Atsu join on loan from Chelsea with Moussa Sissoko leaving for Tottenham for £30m. Despite spending £54m, we managed to make a £30m profit over the summer. Having impressed since coming back into the side, Yoan Gouffran scored a fantastic volley away to Derby after the international break with DeAndre Yedlin’s first Magpies goal in stoppage time sealing all three points and three days later, we recorded our biggest away win since 1962 as Jonjo Shelvey’s double as well as further strikes from Ayoze Perez, Ciaran Clark, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Grant Hanley gave us a 6-0 win at QPR but it was followed by a shock 2-0 home loss against Wolves before we reversed the scoreline against the same opposition the EFL Cup third round three days later with goals from Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran.
Against Aston Villa, Tommy Elphick’s first half own goal gave us the lead at Villa Park but after a lot of missed chances, Rudy Gestede had a goal disallowed for the hosts before Aaron Tshibola took advantage of Matz Sels failing to claim a cross to save the hosts a point. Sels was dropped against Norwich as Dwight Gayle opened the scoring but it was cancelled out by a Graham Dorrans penalty just before half-time. Cameron Jerome and Jacob Murphy both scored to put the visitors 3-1 but after Gayle netted his second soon after Murphy’s deflected strike, a dramatic stoppage time saw Yoan Gouffran head home a ninety-fifth minute equaliser before Gayle completed his hat-trick a minute later to seal an unbelievable three points.
October would see Rafa Benitez’s outfit win all six games in all competitions with Christian Atsu’s first Newcastle goal giving us a narrow win at Rotherham whilst Dwight Gayle netted doubles in wins over Brentford and Barnsley as we went top of the table. Ayoze Perez opened the scoring against Ipswich after just fifty-nine seconds with all our players touching the ball whilst no Ipswich player got a touch, Perez bagged another strike whilst Matt Ritchie wrapped up a 3-0 win. The month ended with a double header against Preston and the EFL Cup fourth round tie on Tyneside saw us batter them 6-0 with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Mohamed Diame bagging a double each whilst Matt Ritchie and Ayoze Perez also got on the scoresheet. Mitrovic netted another double in the league game at Deepdale four days later.
An easy win against struggling Cardiff at St James’ Park was anticipated on the first weekend of November, especially when Christian Atsu and Yoan Gouffran made it 2-0 at half-time but Peter Whittingham pulled one back to make it a nervous end to a 2-1 win. Our trip to Leeds saw the hosts sell out Elland Road for the first time since May 2010 and they went home disappointed as Dwight Gayle’s double sealed a 2-0 win to leave us five points clear at the top but that gap was cut to two points thanks to a shock 1-0 home loss at home to Blackburn before a heartbreaking exit from the EFL Cup losing 3-1 to Hull on penalties. The first half at Nottingham Forest three days later saw Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett controversially sent off but Karl Darlow saved both penalties on his return to the City Ground whilst Matt Ritchie’s strike gave us the lead at the break but despite excellent second half defending, the hosts won 2-1 but the two red cards were rescinded.
We got back to winning ways by hammering fifth placed Birmingham 4-0 thanks to Dwight Gayle’s second Magpies hat-trick and Yoan Gouffran also scoring whilst Mohamed Diame (who’d already scored on his return to the KC Stadium) would again net against one of his former clubs to open the scoring against struggling Wigan before substitute Christian Atsu killed the game off. Diame again scored the winner as we won our first ever competitive game against Burton to ensure we were top of the Championship for Christmas. But Jonjo Shelvey was given a five game ban after being found guilty of being racist to Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss and we missed him in a poor display on Boxing Day as Sheffield Wednesday won 1-0 on Tyneside for a second