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 successive season but despite not our playing at our best when Nottingham Forest came to St James’ Park, we got revenge for the controversy at the City Ground as Matt Ritchie’s free-kick and Dwight Gayle’s double gave us a 3-1 win with Forest skipper Matthew Mills sent off.
2017 started in disappointing fashion as we were once again beaten 1-0 by Blackburn with Charlie Mulgrew scoring against us again. The FA Cup third round tie at Birmingham saw Daryl Murphy score his first Magpies goal early on but Aleksandar Mitrovic was stretchered off soon afterwards and Lukas Jutkiewicz equalised shortly before half-time meaning a replay at St James’ Park was needed. Dwight Gayle joined Mitrovic on the sidelines through injury shortly after scoring his twentieth goal of the season against Brentford but despite relentless pressure from the hosts following Lasse Vibe’s equaliser, Murphy scored again to give us victory. Yoan Gouffran started up front in the cup replay against Birmingham and took his chance after Matt Ritchie opened the scoring with a penalty to put us 2-0 up at half-time. On his return from suspension, Jonjo Shelvey played a part in each of the goals as we won 3-1 to earn a fourth round trip to League One Oxford. A hammering was probably expected when Rotherham (who would finish bottom with the lowest points tally in the second tier since three points for a win was introduced) but we nearly fell behind when Karl Darlow failed to hold onto a long ball but with help from DeAndre Yedlin and Ciaran Clark, he somehow stopped Danny Ward from making it 1-0 and after Murphy bagged another goal just before half-time, Ritchie scored a second successive brace whilst Ayoze Perez also netted as we ran out 4-0 winners.
The FA Cup tie at Oxford was arguably our worst game of the season as we were humiliated 3-0 in a dreadful second half whilst we failed to sign anyone in January with talks to bring Andros Townsend back on deadline day breaking down. The following night, we were held at home by QPR in a poor display with Ciaran Clark’s late own goal giving Ian Holloway’s side a share of the spoils whilst Rafa Benitez’s post match interview with Sky left many fans worried about his future but after the Spaniard insisted he had no intentions on leaving in his post match press conference, Steve McClaren’s return to St James’ Park with Derby ended in a 1-0 loss with Matt Ritchie netting for the fourth home game running whilst another 1-0 win came at Wolves a week later, this time Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the only goal. Ayoze Perez gave us a first minute lead at Norwich before Jacob Murphy and Cameron Jerome netted their second goals against us each for the season to put the hosts 2-1 up at the break. Jamaal Lascelles, who was at fault for Murphy’s goal bagged a late equaliser to give us a deserved draw.
There was a lot at stake when Aston Villa came to Tyneside six days later, especially after they signed Henri Lansbury (who caused the two controversial red cards in the loss at Nottingham Forest) and Steve Bruce’s side had only picked up one point since the turn of the year (a game which saw them draw 2-2 after being 2-0 up at home to Preston). Yoan Gouffran opened the scoring towards the end of a poor first half whilst Lansbury, who missed Forest’s loss at St James’ Park four weeks after the controversy at the City Ground scored an own goal to make it 2-0 and meant we were unbeaten in twelve games against Villa. Bristol City stunned Tyneside by going 2-0 up early on thanks to goals from Aaron Wilbraham and David Cotterill but an own goal from Korey Smith and Ciaran Clark’s header saved us a point. Brighton won later that day to go top ahead of our visit to the AMEX Stadium and looked like stretching their lead to four points when they took the lead through a Glenn Murray penalty but an extraordinary goal from Mohamed Diame brought us level before substitute Ayoze Perez sealed a vital three points.
Promotion looked sealed when a 3-1 win at third placed Huddersfield put us eleven points above the Yorkshire outfit whilst a 0-0 draw at fellow promotion candidates Reading meant we’d earned seven out of nine points from three games against the rest of the top four but a first league loss in twelve came as a rampant Fulham won 3-1 on Tyneside and a 0-0 draw at Birmingham left us winless in three games. The next win came against Wigan just after the international break but Burton’s first ever visit to St James’ Park saw controversy as Matt Ritchie’s penalty was wrongly ruled out due to encroachment but instead of the twenty-seven year old being asked to retake the kick, Nigel Clough’s side were given a free kick but the Scotland international’s fantastic strike gave us three points. Sheffield Wednesday became the third side to do the double over us as second half headers from Tom Lees and Steven Fletcher condemned us a 2-1 loss before the league’s top scorer Chris Wood’s ninety-fifth minute header denied us victory over Leeds at St James’ Park on Good Friday.
A 3-1 loss at Ipswich on Easter Monday left us seven points behind leaders Brighton with three games left but promotion was sealed with a 4-1 home win against Preston a week later but Lee Charnley was arrested in a tax fraud investigation two days later before being released without charge. A 2-0 win at Cardiff in our penultimate game meant we’d won a record fourteen away games over the season and Brighton’s surprise 1-0 home loss against Bristol City the following day left us one point off top spot going into the final day. Goals from Ayoze Perez and Chancel Mbemba put us 2-0 up against Barnsley but Glenn Murray’s penalty gave Chris Hughton’s side the lead against Aston Villa with Nathan Baker sent off in the process but after Dwight Gayle made it 3-0 late on, Jack Grealish equalised for Villa meaning we won the Championship title.
Three days later, Rafa Benitez confirmed he would stay on as manager after talks with Mike Ashley.