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2017/18 season review

The first players to leave us in the summer were Vurnon Anita, Sammy Ameobi, Lubomir Satka and Haris Vuckic, who were all released at the end of their contracts. It took a while to make our first signing as Florian Lejeune finally arrived from Eibar on 4 July whilst Graham Carr left his role as chief scout and Matz Sels joined Anderlecht on loan. Later that week, we were linked with wingers Sheyi Ojo, Jesus Navas, Adama Traore and Jacob Murphy and the latter was signed from Norwich on 19 July during our pre season training camp at Carton House, Ireland. Before travelling over the Irish sea, Dwight Gayle's first half double gave us a 2-1 win at Hearts in our first pre season friendly before Yoan Gouffran declined a new contract and joined Goztepe on a free whilst Adam Armstrong joined Bolton on loan, after returning to England, we announced the signing of Javier Manquillo from Atletico Madrid whilst Daryl Murphy left for Nottingham Forest and Sean Longstaff joined Blackpool on loan on the eve of a 1-1 draw at Preston with Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring yet another goal against the Lilywhites.

A loan deal for Borussia Dortmund's Mikel Merino was agreed hours before we beat Bradford 4-0 with Mitrovic and Gayle getting a goal each and Murphy bagging a double, he returned to Germany to join up with the rest of the squad for the away game against Mainz, which we lost 2-1 but our second game against Bundesliga opposition went a lot better as goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic, Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu gave us a 3-1 win over Wolfsburg before Atsu scored again as we beat Hellas Verona 2-0 following Ayoze Perez's opener whilst Ivan Toney joined Wigan on loan. Our first game back in the Premier League saw us lose 2-0 to Tottenham thanks to second half goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies after Jonjo Shelvey's needless red card, Joselu was signed from Stoke three days later and came off the bench in a 1-0 loss at Huddersfield the following weekend. Despite Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring our first competitive goal of the season against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup and Rolando Aarons' screamer just before half time, we went out 3-2 in extra time (the first since 1991/92 we went out of the cup in the second round) but Joselu scored on his first start as beat West Ham 3-0 three days later with Ciaran Clark and Mitrovic also netting.

During the final week of the window, we sold Emmanuel Riviere to Metz, Siem De Jong to Ajax and Grant Hanley to Norwich and loaned Stuart Findlay to Kilmarnock, Tim Krul to Brighton and Achraf Lazaar to Benevento. But a loan move for Matt Targett on deadline day fell through, leaving us without a fit left-back as Paul Dummett got injured on the opening day. But Jesus Gamez impressed at left-back as we beat Swansea 1-0 with Mikel Merino dominating against highly rated youngster Renato Sanches and Jamaal Lascelles making a dramatic clearance before heading home the winner from a Matt Ritchie corner. Lascelles repeated the latter as we beat Stoke 2-1 the following weekend to move up to fourth before dropping back to ninth as Brighton beat us 1-0 four days after they made Krul a permanent signing. Despite missing a good chance in that game, Joselu scored against Liverpool a week later to save us a point after Philippe Coutinho's wonder strike and two days before the Southampton game, Mikel Merino was signed permanently from Borussia Dortmund, he was surprisingly dropped but Isaac Hayden, who came in for the Spaniard, opened the scoring with a screamer before Manolo Gabbiadini scored either side of Ayoze Perez's first goal of the season in a 2-2 draw (ending our four game winless run at St Mary's). But Merino came off the bench for Hayden against Crystal Palace and headed home his first Magpies goal to give us a 1-0 win late on.

But the Spaniard suffered a back injury and was missed during our 1-0 loss at Burnley whilst Bournemouth beat us the same scoreline at St James' Park five days later in devastating circumstances as Steve Cook headed home from a corner in stoppage time but what was more damaging was Jamaal Lascelles' injury during that game, we'd conceded just nine goals from our first eleven league games but conceded fifteen in the five league games he sat (including a 3-0 humiliation against Watford). The only point we picked up saw us come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at West Brom in Merino's first start since the Palace game. When Lascelles returned, we played a lot better against Everton and Arsenal but lost both games 1-0 before a Jonjo Shelvey suspension plus injuries to Mikel Merino and Isaac Hayden meant Henri Saivet made a surprise start against West Ham (the fact that Jack Colback still didn't make the bench for that game says it all about how much Rafa wants him sold ASAP) and after an error that lead to Marko Arnautovic opening the scoring, he made it 1-1 with a beautiful free kick whilst Mohamed Diame stunned everyone by making it 2-1 against his former club (then again, he scored away to Hull and Wigan last season). After Rob Elliot saved an Andre Ayew penalty, Christian Atsu made it 3-1 meaning despite Ayew eventually getting his goal, we held on for a crucial 3-2 win.

Against runaway league leaders Man City, Rafa decided to play five at the back with Paul Dummett returning from injury and we only lost 1-0 thanks to superb defending, whilst Gary Neville called our tactics embarassing (despite getting beat 7-0 by Barcelona whilst in charge of Valencia), only losing 1-0 turned out to be important in terms of league position at the end of the season. We signed off 2017 with a drab 0-0 draw against Brighton before Ayoze Perez responded to social media abuse from so called fans by bagging the winner against Stoke on New Year's Day, what made it funny was that Mark Hughes claimed he rested players in their 5-0 hammering at Chelsea in order to beat us (he was sacked after their 2-1 loss at Coventry five days later). Perez scored another two goals as we beat Luton 3-1 in the FA Cup despite a poor second half showing from us before getting the assist for Joselu's equaliser in a frustrating 1-1 draw with Swansea. We went five at the back again against Man City and only a Sergio Aguero hat-trick beat us with Jacob Murphy bagging his first Magpies goal in the second half, this meant we only conceded four goals in two games against Pep Guardiola's side over the season (Liverpool, Watford, Leicester and Stoke all conceded more in one game each against them). After loaning Adam Armstrong, Ivan Toney and Dan Barlaser out to Blackburn, Scunthorpe and Crewe respectively, we brought in Kenedy on loan from Chelsea before the Blues beat us 3-0 in the FA Cup.

Whilst people were dreading deadline day (I also dreaded that night's game against Burnley), we signed Islam Slimani and Martin Dubravka on loan from Leicester and Sparta Prague respectively before sending Jamie Sterry to Crewe, Jack Colback to Nottingham Forest, Aleksandar Mitrovic to Fulham, Freddie Woodman to Aberdeen and Rolando Aarons to Hellas Verona (all on loan). Against Burnley, Joselu missed two golden chances including a poor penalty as Karl Darlow's late own goal cancelled out Jamaal Lascelles' second half header in a frustrating 1-1 draw (at least the day went better than we expected) before another 1-1 came at Crystal Palace, Kenedy had started with two assists in two games whilst Dubravka made his debut against Man Utd. In that game, Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku were nowhere to be seen as Matt Ritchie's first goal of the season gave us a 1-0 win, leaving Jose Mourinho still yet to win a league game on Tyneside. Dwight Gayle netted a double to put us 2-0 at Bournemouth two weeks later but after Jonjo Shelvey wasted a good chance to make it 3-0, late goals from Ryan Fraser and our former player Dan Gosling gave Eddie Howe's team a 2-2 draw. A week later, Rafa's return to Anfield ended in a 2-0 loss thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

This left us needing to beat Southampton and it turned out to be arguably one of our most convincing games of the season as Kenedy scored a first half double before Matt Ritchie's excellent strike gave us a 3-0 win, which saw Saints manager Mauricio Pellegrino sacked (finally some luck for us with the timings of other managers being sacked after what Everton and Swansea did just before coming to St James'). Tottenham's FA Cup run and an international break left us without a game for three weeks before a massive 1-0 win over Huddersfield (with Islam Slimani finally making his debut after injury) thanks to a late Ayoze Perez goal. Perez would score one and assist one in each of our next two games as we beat Leicester and Arsenal 2-1 to seal our survival and move into the top half. Our four game winning run was then followed up by a four game losing run as we lost 1-0 to Everton, West Brom and Tottenham and 2-1 to Watford despite Perez scoring again. However, Perez scored twice as we hammered Chelsea 3-0 on the final day in our best performance of the season

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