Updated: Jul 28, 2020
So another season is over and in such weird circumstances, it was one where we definitely did better than what most people predicted in pre season but one I think all of us are glad to see the back of because of our form after the win at Bournemouth and having to finish behind closed doors thanks to coronavirus.
Six weeks after the end of the 2018/19 season, disaster struck as it was confirmed that Rafael Benítez would be leaving at the end of his contract and unsurprisingly, he admitted upon departure that he wanted to stay but the board weren't willing to match his ambitions. Just before the players came back for pre-season, Ayoze Pérez's £30,000,000 release clause was activated by Leicester City just to make things worse and as an alleged takeover from the Bin Zayed Group never materialised, Steve Bruce was appointed as head coach right before our first Asia Trophy game against Wolverhampton Wanderers in Nanjing, which we lost 4-0 but he watched from the stands as we beat West Ham United 1-0 in Shanghai in the third place play-off three days later with Yoshinori Muto scoring the only goal.
Just after we returned from China, Joelinton was signed for a club record £40,000,000 from Hoffenheim and he scored in pre-season wins against Hibernian and St Etienne whilst Jetro Willems arrived on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt on the same day as French winger Allan Saint-Maximin completed a £16,500,000 move from Nice. Deadline day saw us sign Sweden international Emil Krafth from Amiens for £5,000,000 and free agent Andy Carroll returned home after eight and a half years. This still didn't stop fans from protesting against the board before a 1-0 home loss against Arsenal in our first league game of the season whilst six days later, we were humiliated 3-1 at newly-promoted Norwich City thanks to a Teemu Pukki hat-trick before Joelinton's first Premier League goal came in a shock 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur eight days later. Ayoze Pérez's first return to St James' Park came earlier than expected as we hosted Leicester City in the second round of the Carabao Cup three days later, Joelinton and Miguel Almirón didn't play due as they were fatigued but Yoshinori Muto stepped up to equalise from Jetro Willems' low cross, however, we lost 4-2 on penalties and Matt Ritchie went off injured following a horror tackle from Hamza Choudhury, the month ended with a 1-1 draw against Watford with Fabian Schär scoring our goal.
Willems scored his first Magpies goal to give us a shock early lead at Liverpool but we'd eventually lose 3-1 before a dire display in a 0-0 draw at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, a game we were lucky to get a point out of and then a 5-0 hammering at Leicester with Isaac Hayden seeing red in the first half. This paved the way for Sean Longstaff's brother Matthew to come in against Manchester United and score the only goal on his Premier League debut, they started together in the midfield again in a 1-0 loss at Chelsea and a 1-1 draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers with Sean being sent off late on. This meant Hayden came straight back in away to West Ham United following the end of his ban whilst Jonjo Shelvey marked his return to the side with a superb free-kick in a 3-2 win and around that time, we saw a lot of goals from defenders as Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez also scored in our win at the London Stadium whilst Clark scored again to give us a 2-1 win over Bournemouth a week later after DeAndre Yedlin's first half equaliser and Jamaal Lascelles also got on the scoresheet in the draw with Wolves.
After the November international break, we were brought back down to earth with a 2-0 loss at newly-promoted Aston Villa before Willems' second goal of the season and a beautiful late strike from Shelvey gave us a 2-2 draw with defending champions Manchester City. Shelvey would score in both our next games against Sheffield United, where Andy Carroll was originally flagged for offside but the goal was then allowed after a VAR check and against Southampton as we came from behind to win 2-1 with Carroll setting him up again after coming off the bench to replace the struggling Joelinton whilst the Sheffield United game also saw Allan Saint-Maximin net his first goal in the 2-0 win. We then suffered a drab 1-0 loss at Burnley before Miguel Almirón's first goal came in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace but the busy schedule would take it's toll on the squad as we lost 4-1 at Manchester United despite another goal against them from Matthew Longstaff and 2-1 at home to Everton in our last game of the decade.
New Year's Day saw my least favourite Magpies game of the season as we were beaten 3-0 at home by high-flying Leicester City with Ayoze Pérez celebrating in front of the Gallowgate when he made it 1-0 just before James Maddison, who'd scored a free kick at St James' Park in the Carabao Cup, made it 2-0 soon afterwards with a superb strike from a Pérez assist. Meanwhile, Javier Manquillo, Jonjo Shelvey, Fabian Schär and Jetro Willems all came off injured and to make things worse, Hamza Choudbury came off the bench to score his first Foxes goal four months after his horror tackle on Matt Ritchie, who still hadn't recovered. Ritchie did make his return off the bench against Rochdale in the FA Cup third round three days later as Miguel Almirón put us 1-0 up in the first half but seventeen year old Luke Matheson (who'd scored at Old Trafford in Carabao Cup to get Rochdale to penalties against Manchester United) set up forty year old Aaron Wilbraham (who'd scored against us for Bristol City three years earlier), to equalise and force a replay at St James' Park. Almirón would score again as we held Wolverhampton Wanderers to a 1-1 draw and when we beat Rochdale 4-1 in the replay with Joelinton, who'd taken huge criticism for his lack of effort in the replay, scoring his first competitive goal at St James' Park with academy graduate Tom Allan getting the assist on his first team debut.
That goal seemed to give him confidence as despite not scoring, he performed well against Chelsea four days later, after some excellent defending, really helped by the return of captain Jamaal Lascelles after two months out, my favourite moment of the season came from Isaac Hayden headed home Allan Saint-Maximin's cross in the ninety-fourth minute to give us a 1-0 win. Three days later, we managed to get a crazy 2-2 draw at Everton despite Steve Bruce bringing on three defenders at 2-0 down but we had more stoppage time glory as Florian Lejeune halved the deficit in the ninety-fourth minute with a bicycle kick before Jordan Pickford being behind the lead helped him to get his second of the night and an unbelievable point. Two 0-0 draws followed as Oxford United became the second League One side to take us to an FA Cup replay and we dropped points to bottom club Norwich City for a second time in the season but the replay against Oxford was a thriller - Sean Longstaff netted his first goal of the season before Joelinton made it 2-0 at half-time but two fantastic late goals from the hosts took us to extra-time before a moment of magic from Allan Saint-Maximin gave us a 3-2 win.
The January window saw us make three loan moves - Nabil Bentaleb from Schalke, Valentino Lazaro from Inter Milan and Danny Rose from Tottenham Hotspur, two of whom made their first starts away to Arsenal after our February weekend off but a second half collapse meant a 4-0 defeat and Lazaro was sent off at the end of a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace, a game which Martin Dubravka really kept us in whilst Bentaleb wasn't performing either. Bruce changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation against Burnley and restored Javier Manquillo, Matt Ritchie, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Dwight Gayle to the starting XI but we could only draw 0-0 although the formation started to work as Almirón scored his third and fourth FA Cup goals to give us a 2-0 lead at half-time at West Bromwich Albion whilst Lazaro scored on his return from suspension as Allan Saint-Maximin also shone in the 3-2 win and it was the Frenchman who netted the only goal in a 1-0 win at ten man Southampton four days later.
However, the Premier League was suspended the following week after Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi both tested positive for coronavirus, during the shutdown, Mike Ashley finally agreed to sell the club to the Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund with PCP Capital Partners (who'd attempted to buy us in the 2017/18 season but failed) and Reuben Brothers also involved. By the time the Premier League gave an answer on whether the takeover could be approved, football resumed again in June but behind closed doors with Euro 2020 having been postponed until next summer as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and as soon as fans couldn't attend, Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton both got their first Premier League goals at St James' Park in a 3-0 win over ten man Sheffield United whilst Matt Ritchie netted his first of the season, having seen a penalty saved in the win at Southampton. Dwight Gayle would then net his first of the season against Aston Villa three days later before Ahmed Elmohamady, who'd worked with Steve Bruce at Sunderland, Hull City and Villa, equalised to earn Dean Smith's side an important point in their fight for survival.
We went out of the FA Cup in disappointing fashion against Manchester City as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, who'd both netted in the 2-2 draw in the league, both scored their second goals at St James' Park for the season as Pep Guardiola's side won 2-0 but three days later, Allan Saint-Maximin ran the show as we hammered relegation candidates Bournemouth 4-1 at the Vitality Stadium thanks to goals from Dwight Gayle, Sean Longstaff, Miguel Almirón and Valentino Lazaro. Almirón scored again as we drew 2-2 with West Ham United but missed the 5-0 loss thumping at Manchester City (thank God it wasn't on the original date of my birthday) before we lost 2-1 at Watford despite Gayle's first half tap-in. The season simply fizzled out as José Mourinho got his first league win at St James' Park as his Tottenham Hotspur side won 3-1 whilst champions Liverpool won the same scoreline on Tyneside, both games coming either side of our second 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion this season.
So after a poor end to the season, with another thirteenth place finish, we are still waiting for answers from the Premier League as to whether our takeover can go through. Let's hope the answer is yes and it doesn't have such a negative affect on our summer transfer window but regardless, I do look forward to being able to come to St James' Park when it is safe to do so.