A year review: 2017
2017 didn't get off to the greatest of starts as we lost 1-0 at struggling Blackburn despite dominating the first half before being held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham in the FA Cup despite Daryl Murphy scoring his first Magpies goal. Murphy scored the winner at Brentford a week later after coming on for the injured Dwight Gayle, who netted his twentieth goal of the season in the first half. After we beat Birmingham 3-1 in the replay, Murphy scored again to put us 1-0 at the end of a disappointing first half against bottom club Rotherham before Matt Ritchie's second brace in less than a week and an Ayoze Perez goal gave us a comfortable 4-0 win but we were humiliated 3-0 by League One Oxford in the FA Cup fourth round with Aleksandar Mitrovic seeing his awful penalty easily saved. Further problems followed as a late Ciaran Clark own goal meant we could only draw with QPR and Rafa Benitez admitted after the game that our failure to sign anyone in January wasn't his decision but on the eve of Steve McClaren's return to St James' Park, he assured the fans he wouldn't quit and Matt Ritchie scored the only goal of the game to send us back to the top of the league. Meanwhile Cheick Tiote, completed his transfer to Beijing Enterprises, having played his last ever game for the club in the cup replay against Birmingham.
Aleksandar Mitrovic could've been sent off before he netted the only goal of the game at Molineux a week later before Ayoze Perez scored in the opening minute to put us 1-0 up at Norwich before Jacob Murphy and Cameron Jerome took advantage of defensive errors to put the hosts 2-1 up at the break but captain Jamaal Lascelles redeemed himself as his late strike saved us a point. After his antics robbed us of three points at Nottingham Forest, Henri Lansbury scored an own goal as his new club Aston Villa were beaten 2-0 at St James' Park. But further defensive errors saw us 2-0 down at home to strugglers Bristol City at half-time before a Korey Smith own goal and a Ciaran Clark header saved us a point but Brighton's win over Reading later in the day meant they headed into the top of the table clash at the AMEX three days later in top spot and a Glenn Murray penalty put them in front before a bizarre goal from Mohammed Diame and an Ayoze Perez finish gave us a 2-1 win. A 3-1 win at fellow promotional hopefuls Huddersfield four days later meant promotion looked like it was wrapped up but our next three games saw us draw 0-0 at Reading and Birmingham and lose 3-1 at home to a rampant Fulham side. After the international break, Matt Ritchie scored the winner in bother of our narrow home wins over Wigan and Burton, the Scot even had a penalty disallowed due to player infringement but the referee bizarrely gave the visitors a free kick. Our title hopes looked to be over as we lost 2-1 and 3-1 at Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich respectively and could only draw 1-1 at home to Leeds thanks to Chris Wood's last minute header, leaving Brighton seven points ahead with three games left. But they missed their first chance to seal the title by losing 2-0 at Norwich four days after their Easter Monday win over Wigan sealed their promotion whilst Huddersfield and Reading's losses the following day left us needing just a win to seal promotion and our immediate return to the Premier League was confirmed with a 4-1 win over Preston.
After we broke the club record for the most away wins in a season with a 2-0 win at Cardiff, Brighton suffered a shock 1-0 home loss against Bristol City meaning they needed to match our final day result to win the title. Ayoze Perez and Chancel Mbemba put us 2-0 up against Barnsley but Glenn Murray's penalty put Chris Hughton's men 1-0 up at ten man Aston Villa but after Dwight Gayle put us 3-0 up late on, Jack Grealish's stoppage time strike meant Brighton could only draw 1-1 and we were champions. Three days later, Rafa Benitez confirmed he'd stay on as manager after talks with the board and Christian Atsu was signed permanently from Chelsea two weeks later.
June saw the shock death of Cheick Tiote at the age of thirty. The Ivorian collapsed in a training session with Beijing Enterprises and many of his former teammates paid tribute to him on social media whilst the five managers he played under at Newcastle also paid tribute. Later that week, Rafa transfer listed Henri Saivet, Jack Colback, Siem De Jong, Emmanuel Riviere, Grant Hanley, Massadio Haidara, Achraf Lazaar and Daryl Murphy before releasing Vurnon Anita, Sammy Ameobi, Lubomir Satka and Haris Vuckic. Chief scout Graham Carr left the club later that month and his final signing for the club, Matz Sels, was loaned out to Anderlecht a day later. We confirmed our first signing of the summer two weeks later as Florian Lejeune joined from Eibar whilst Dwight Gayle's double gave us a 2-1 win at Hearts in our first pre season friendly, by the time our friendly at Preston came around, we brought in Jacob Murphy from Norwich and Javier Manquillo from Atletico Madrid whilst Daryl Murphy left for Nottingham Forest, Adam Armstrong joined Bolton on loan and Yoan Gouffran rejected a new contract and instead joined Goztepe on a free. We were held to a 1-1 draw at Deepdale but four days later, we reached an agreement with Borussia Dortmund to sign Mikel Merino a season long loan before a 4-0 win at Bradford that night. Merino's move was confirmed a day before a 2-1 loss at Mainz but our second game in Germany saw us beat Wolfsburg 3-1 and we ended pre season with a 2-0 win over Hellas Verona at St James' Park.
Our first game back in the Premier League was against the same opponents we hammered 5-1 in our last Premier League game in May 2016 but this time, Tottenham ran out 2-0 winners with Jonjo Shelvey getting sent off for stamping on Dele Alli. Three days later, Joselu was signed from Stoke and made his debut in a poor 1-0 loss at Huddersfield. Three days, we went out of the EFL Cup in the second round for the first time since 1991 as Nottingham Forest won 3-2 on Tyneside after extra-time but Joselu scored on his first start for the club as we beat West Ham 3-0 three days later. But despite selling Emmanuel Riviere to Metz, Siem De Jong to Ajax and Grant Hanley to Norwich before loaning out Tim Krul and Achraf Lazaar to Brighton and Benevento respectively, we failed to make any deadline day signings and were left without a proper left back for four months due to Paul Dummett getting injured against Tottenham and Massadio Haidara already being injured. But Jesus Gamez came in from the cold and impressed in that position as we beat Swansea 1-0 with Jamaal Lascelles clearing Tammy Abraham's strike off the line before heading home the winner at the other end. Lascelles scored again as we beat Stoke 2-1 to move into the top four six days later.
But we dropped back down to mid table with a 1-0 loss at Brighton before we held Liverpool and Southampton to draws with Mike Ashley confirming that club was up for sale the day after the Southampton game, against Crystal Palace, Mikel Merino came off the bench to score his first Magpies goal to give us a 1-0 win but he missed the next three games and we were beaten 1-0 by Burnley and Bournemouth before losing 4-1 at Man Utd, he came on against Watford but too late to save us from an embarrassing 3-0 home loss. The losing run was ended as we came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with West Brom but despite opening the scoring in both games, further defeats followed against Chelsea and Leicester whilst Everton and Arsenal both beat us 1-0. But two days before Christmas, Henri Saivet and Mohammed Diame stunned everyone by scoring in a 3-2 win at West Ham to lift us out of the relegation zone before we bravely lost 1-0 to champions elect Man City but 2017 ended on a drab note with a 0-0 home draw against Brighton.
Let's hope we can stay in the Premier League this season and the PCP Group take over from Mike Ashley.