Back in March 2016 with the club facing a very difficult battle against relegation from the Premier League, I, for one, simply could not believe our luck when Rafa Benitez came to Newcastle with the short term mission of achieving survival. Despite being unable to turn things around in time, we did manage to go unbeaten in the final six games of the season including a 5-1 thrashing against (keeping the pressure on specialists) Tottenham.
Another remarkable blessing came our way soon after the season ended as Benitez decided to renew his contract which meant he was staying with the club in the Championship, a division which saw a great increase in quality and difficulty since the 2009/10 season; we knew that promotion was going to be a lot harder than it was last time around. At the start of the 2015/16 season, Benitez was managing Real Madrid and on the night of the opening group stage match in the Champions League, we had an away trip to QPR at Loftus Road.
A tricky start pursued in the Championship with defeats to Fulham and Huddersfield. After getting back on track, the end of September saw something special. Matz Sels was dropped which gave an opportunity to Karl Darlow and he did not disappoint. In the 69th minute in the match at home to Norwich, future Newcastle player, Jacob Murphy put the Canaries 3-1 ahead and then something remarkable happened. Dwight Gayle pulled a goal back immediately and after continuously battering down the door, the equaliser eventually came in the 95th minute courtesy of Yoan Gouffran and then Gayle popped up once more to score a 96th-minute winner. That win was the first game of a 9-game win streak (all competitions). The feel-good factor was back at St. James' Park.
January 2017 brought a disappointing transfer window with no acquisitions (quelle surprise) despite the large profit made in the window the previous summer, something which intensified speculation that brought Rafa's future at the club in doubt. The Spaniard, however, remained admirably professional and achieved promotion with two games to spare despite a stutter during the Holy Week and Easter period. Promotion was confirmed on 24th April 2017 courtesy of a 4-1 home win against Preston. Ayoze Perez got the party started with his early close range finish which was soon cancelled out by Jordan Hugill's header. Goals from Christian Atsu, a Matt Ritchie penalty and a second from Perez brought the party to life but we were not finished there.
Fellow promotees, Brighton only needed one win from their remaining two matches to secure the title but a defeat at home to Bristol City and a last minute equaliser from Aston Villa's Jack Grealish gave Benitez's side the title following fairly easy wins against Cardiff and Barnsley with clean sheets.
The new Premier League season got off to an unsure start with rife media speculation of Benitez's future at the club as the transfer budget could only allow for bargain bucket signings. On the pitch though, the season started very much like the previous season with defeats against Tottenham and, de ja vu, Huddersfield. The difficult start got harder with defeat against Nottingham Forest after extra time in the Carabao Cup. The first win however was just around the corner, a 3-0 home win against West Ham.
Following a good September, wins then became few and far between and the club had just entered the relegation zone going into the match against Man United at home. An amazing Martin Dubravka debut (brought in on loan from Sparta Prague) had a massive influence on the game as Matt Ritchie scored the game's only goal to give the club's first win over the Red Devils since December 2013. Since that debut, Dubravka has since been ever-present for the club in the Premier League.
A month following that win, Benitez's side ran out 3-0 winners, courtesy of a Kenedy double, in a must win home match against Southampton which later saw Benitez's apprentice, Mauricio Pellegrino sacked. The win became the catalyst to string victories together after a three-week break with wins against Huddersfield, Leicester and Arsenal. A great run of form which was helped by Ayoze Perez playing at the top of his game.
A 3-0 win on the final day against Chelsea meant that Newcastle finished in the top half of the Premier League table, the first time since West Ham in 2013 to finish in the top half immediately after promotion from the Championship.
Despite the many "promises" from Mike Ashley to enable Benitez to have the club's every penny to spend in the transfer window, the summer 2018 transfer window was another joke as the club generated a large profit and still without a squad that would struggle to compete against the teams outside the top six. A difficult start to the season ensued with only three draws to show for in the first ten games.
A perfect November brought the club back up to speed and Benitez was awarded manager of the month. However it was not to last as one win in the following nine games brought the team back into a precarious position. We managed to keep our heads above water with consecutive league wins coming against Cardiff, in which we scored more than two league goals in a game for the first time in the season, and coming from behind to beat Man City which has been the highlight of the season so far.
Rafa Benitez is a manager who has shown so much love and respect towards the fans and he will be dearly missed if the Spaniard decides to leave the club upon expiry of his contract. He has shown what he can do with a shoestring budget, just imagine what could happen if Rafa works with an owner who loves the club and provides the requisite funds to continually improve the squad.
Dates: 11th March 2016 - present day (1,069 days*)
League: Played: 120, Won: 50, Drawn: 26, Lost: 44, Goals for: 162, Goals against: 133, Goal difference: +19, Pts: 176. Win ratio: 21%
Home (league): Played: 60, Won: 30, Drawn: 10, Lost: 20, Goals for: 93, Goals against: 61, Goal difference: +32, Pts: 100. Win ratio: 50%
Away (league): Played: 60, Won: 20, Drawn: 16, Lost: 24, Goals for: 69, Goals against: 72, Goal difference: -3, Pts: 76. Win ratio: 33%
Domestic Cup: Played: 14, Won: 6, Drawn: 3, Lost: 5, Goals for: 26, Goals against: 21, Goal difference: +5. Win ratio: 43%
Home (all competitions): Played: 66, Won: 34, Drawn: 11, Lost: 21, Goals for: 109, Goals against: 66, Goal difference: +43. Win ratio: 52%
Away (all competitions): Played: 68, Won: 22, Drawn: 18, Lost: 28, Goals for: 79, Goals against: 88, Goal difference: -9. Win ratio: 32%
Total: Played: 134, Won: 56, Drawn: 29, Lost: 49, Goals for: 188, Goals against: 154, Goal difference: +34. Win ratio: 42%
Season by Season
Premier League: 18th (Played: 10, Won: 3, Drawn: 4, Lost: 3, Goals for: 16, Goals against: 12, Goal difference: +4, Pts: 13. Win ratio: 30%)
Championship: 1st (Played: 46, Won: 29, Drawn: 7, Lost: 10, Goals for: 85, Goals against: 40, Goal difference: +45, Pts: 94. Win ratio: 63%)
League Cup: Quarter-Final (v Hull City)
FA Cup: 4th Round (v Oxford United)
Premier League: 10th (Played: 38, Won: 12, Drawn: 8, Lost: 18, Goals for: 39, Goals against: 47, Goal difference: -8, Pts: 44. Win ratio: 32%)
League Cup: 2nd Round (v Nottingham Forest)
FA Cup: 4th Round (v Chelsea)
Premier League: (Played: 26, Won: 6, Drawn: 7, Lost: 13, Goals for: 22, Goals against: 34, Goal difference: -12, Pts: 25. Win ratio: 23%)
League Cup: 2nd Round (v Nottingham Forest)
FA Cup: 4th Round (v Watford)
Newcastle United 3 (Jamaal Lascelles 40, Moussa Sissoko 82, Andros Townsend 89) Swansea City 0 - 16/04/2016
Five games in to the 10-match contract he signed the previous month, Rafa Benitez grabbed his first win which began a six-match unbeaten run in the final games of the season. Jamaal Lascelles scored his first goal at St. James' Park to break the deadlock minutes before half time which eased the nervous tension. Going into the closing stages of the game, the one-goal lead was looking precarious, Moussa Sissoko hammered home from close range after a scrap from a corner. Andros Townsend made the points safe with another goal late on.
Queens Park Rangers 0 Newcastle United 6 (Jonjo Shelvey 12, 48, Ayoze Perez 30, Ciaran Clark 56, Aleksandar Mitrovic 63, Grant Hanley 79) - 13/09/2016
Newcastle United 6 (Aleksandar Mitrovic 19, 55, Mohamed Diame 38, 87, Matt Ritchie pen 53, Ayoze Perez 90) Preston North End 0 - 25/10/2016
On a great night for Newcastle, Rafa Benitez's biggest win at St. James' Park saw the club thrash fellow Championship opposition, Preston North End to go through to the Quarter-Finals of the EFL Cup. Poor defending helped our cause as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Mohamed Diame, scoring his first goals for the club, ripped Preston to shreds.
Huddersfield Town 1 Newcastle United 3 (Matt Ritchie pen 10, Daryl Murphy 32, Dwight Gayle 90) - 04/03/2017
This match came at the end of a crucial week for the club in their bid for an immediate return to the Premier League. Newcastle and Brighton, were leap-frogging each other week by week with Huddersfield consistent in third place for most of the season.
Earlier that week, the Magpies came from behind to beat Brighton at the AMEX Stadium thanks to late goals from Mohamed Diame and Ayoze Perez. When Saturday's match against Huddersfield came, a win was surely going to pave clear the path to promotion and that's exactly what happened. First half goals from Matt Ritchie and veteran, Daryl Murphy set a feel-good factor going. After Huddersfield's Aaron Mooy scored a penalty to bring the Terriers back in the game, they threw the kitchen sink and more at us in the closing stage to seek out an equaliser. However Ciaran Clark's clearance upfield was misjudged by the goalkeeper which allowed Dwight Gayle in to score the easiest goal of his career and secure the points.
50th league match
Newcastle United 1 (Matt Ritchie 68) Burton Albion 0 - 05/04/2017
A match that will always be over-shadowed by a disgraceful refereeing decision from Keith Stroud. Matt Ritchie converted a penalty however Stroud had judged Dwight Gayle to be encroaching. Despite the rules stating that the penalty should be retaken, a free kick was instead given to Burton. Stroud then spent no less than the next seven minutes speaking to each official. My theory is that the officials tried to convince Stroud to change the decision because the ball was not yet brought back into play (another rule that Stroud neglected). After the lengthy stoppage, much to everyone's confusion, two minutes of time was added at the end of the first half. Stroud was then banned for the remainder of the season.
Controversy aside, the good news was of course getting the eventual win in which Ritchie got his goal with a right-footed strike from outside the box.
50th home match
Newcastle United 2 (Ayoze Perez 29, Matt Ritchie 68) Arsenal 1 - 15/04/2018
A super win in the April sunshine brought the club their fourth consecutive Premier League win for the first time since November 2014 under Alan Pardew. The win also affectively guaranteed Premier League survival as goals from Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie produced the victory after going behind early on to Alexandre Lacazette's goal.
50th league win
Newcastle United 2 (Salomon Rondon 66, Matt Ritchie pen 80) Manchester City 1 – 29/01/2019
An excellent week for Newcastle began with a Premier League miracle as Newcastle came from behind to win for the first time in the season and beat Man City for the first time since October 2005. The odds of our chances of winning were as thick as tracing paper and then got even slimmer after conceding to Sergio Aguero after 24 seconds. After holding tight for a long while, a chance fell to Salomon Rondon who got enough of a volley to equalise. Some moments later, some hard work from Sean Longstaff payed dividends as he was brought down for a penalty which Matt Ritchie fired home.
The next few days saw the club break their transfer record for the first time since 2005 by signing Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United.
Further landmark matches
First match: Leicester City 1 - 0 Newcastle United - 14/03/2016
100th match: Everton 1 - 0 Newcastle United - 23/04/2018
50th home league match: Newcastle United 1 - 2 Arsenal - 15/09/2018
100th league match: Crystal Palace 0 - 0 Newcastle United - 22/09/2018
Biggest defeat: Liverpool 4 - 0 Newcastle United – 26/12/2018
Last match: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 - 1 Newcastle United - 11/02/2019