I'm not going to lie, I really should've done more articles over the season but seeing as there's no articles reviewing the season, I may as well do it myself.
It was another difficult summer for us with only around £22.5m spent (not including whatever loan fees we paid for Salomon Rondon and Kenedy), by the time the first pre season game came around, the only new face was Ki Sung-yueng on a free transfer from Swansea whilst Mikel Merino left for Real Sociedad after his £10m release clause was activated although Kenedy had came back for another season on loan from Chelsea. As expected, Jesus Gamez and Massadio Haidara were released when their contracts expired.
We beat St Patrick's 2-0 with youngster Sean Longstaff scoring in his first appearance in black and white before a late Christian Atsu penalty wrapped things up but Rafa had admitted he was having to wheel and deal which rang alarm bells and led to 'If Rafa Goes We Go' being set up. After Chancel Mbemba joined Porto for around £7.14m, our second pre season game saw us draw 2-2 at Hull with Joselu opening the scoring and Ayoze Perez netting a late equaliser, Mbemba was replaced with Deportivo's Fabian Schar after his £3m relegation release clause was activated. Five days after Mbemba's transfer was complete, we held his new club to a 0-0 draw as both clubs celebrated the life of Bobby Robson in what was Porto's 125th anniversary game.
Aleksandar Mitrovic's inevitable departure followed as he rejoined Fulham after a successful loan spell there in the second half of 2017-18 but it was very disappointing that the £22m wasn't reinvested, after a 4-0 loss to Braga in our second game in Portugal, Yoshinori Muto's £9.5m move from Mainz was completed after he was granted a work permit, our final pre season game ended in a disappointing 1-0 home loss to Augsburg before a loan swap deal with West Brom between Salomon Rondon and Dwight Gayle was completed whilst Federico Fernandez arrived from Swansea for £6m on deadline day. Like 2018/19, we started the season at home to Tottenham and the first twenty minutes saw Jan Vertonghen open the scoring, Joselu equalise and Dele Alli score as Spurs ran out 2-1 winners before our next game was a disappointing 0-0 draw at Cardiff as the homesick Isaac Hayden was sent off before Kenedy capped off one of the worst ever Premier League displays with a dreadful penalty in the last minute.
The game against Chelsea the following weekend was very similar to the Spurs game - a 2-1 loss, Joselu heading home the equaliser for us and all the goals coming in quick succession. Salomon Rondon scoring his first Magpies goal against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup three days later but an abject display meant they knocked us in the second round of the competition for the second year running but three days later, DeAndre Yedlin scored his Premier League goal to equalise for us at the Etihad before Man City won 2-1. Another 2-1 loss against another top six outfit followed at home to Arsenal after the international break as a poor second half cost us, after a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace, we were then beaten 2-0 at home to Leicester. Yoshinori Muto made his first league start at Old Trafford a week later and he and Kenedy put us 2-0 up early on before the hosts came back to win 3-2 and a 1-0 home loss to Brighton meant we'd suffered our worst start to a Premier League season but on the plus side, Salomon Rondon came back from injury in a 0-0 draw at Southampton a week later.
We finally won our first game of the season against Watford with the three forced substitutions being key - Ki Sung-Yueng came on for Jonjo Shelvey and put in the free kick for Ayoze Perez (who came on for Yoshinori Muto) to score the only goal whilst Fabian Schar also impressed after coming on for Jamaal Lascelles. Rondon netted his first two league goals for us as we beat Bournemouth 2-1 a week later and another 2-1 win came at Burnley after the international break with a Ben Mee own goal a Ciaran Clark header before being brought back down to earth as West Ham tore us apart with a 3-0 win at St James' Park, Rondon opened the scoring as we held Everton to a 1-1 draw and had a superb game against Wolves four days later, including putting in the cross for Perez to equalise just after hitting the bar from a free kick but after DeAndre Yedlin's silly red card, Matt Doherty won it for the visitors in the last minute. Rondon was however back on the scoresheet as we beat Huddersfield 1-0 but after being held 0-0 at home to Fulham, Boxing Day saw us lose 4-0 at Liverpool but Rondon scored again in a 1-1 draw at Watford in our last of 2018.
2019 began with a frustrating 2-0 home loss to Man Utd as once again, we suffered through playing someone during their new manager honeymoon period whilst Matt Ritchie saved us from another cup humiliation as his late penalty gave us a 1-1 draw against Blackburn in the FA Cup. Ciaran Clark scored a shock equaliser late in the first half at Stamford Bridge a week later but we lost 2-1 although the replay against Blackburn saw Sean Longstaff (who really impressed in the Chelsea game) net his first competitive Toon goal before fellow academy graduate Cal Roberts made it 2-0 but after another twenty-one year old Magpies academy graduate Adam Armstrong pulled one back, Darragh Lenihan equalised on the stroke of half time but goals from Joselu and Ayoze Perez gave us a 4-2 win in extra time. The Cardiff home game four days later was a vital one and we prevailed 3-0 winners with Fabian Schar's first two Magpies goals (including a superb run for the first goal) whilst Perez wrapped up the three points in stoppage time as Salomon Rondon bullied the Bluebirds defence. The next week was a one of turmoil as Jordan Lukaku's loan move from Lazio was called off as he failed a medical whilst reports went round that Rafa Benitez would leave at the end of the season if Atlanta United's Miguel Almiron and a left back weren't signed and we were knocked out the FA Cup as Watford won 2-0 at St James' Park.
But 29 January 2019 was a day when things started to change and I'll remember this date forever for the right reasons if the proposed takeover happens, hours before the home game against Man City, it was confirmed that a club record fee had been agreed for Almiron and despite Sergio Aguero's opener after twenty-five seconds, Salomon Rondon equalised before a Matt Ritchie gave us a shock 2-1 win, our first in the league against Man City since our previous record signing Michael Owen netted his first goal at St James' Park against them in September 2005, deadline day saw the Almiron signing announced as well as a loan deal for Monaco's Antonio Barreca. February started with a 1-0 loss at Spurs with a late Heung Min-Son goal before another late goal cost us two points as Willy Boly (who was alleged to have elbowed Ayoze Perez in the face two months earlier) headed in a last gasp equaliser after Isaac Hayden opened the scoring at Molineux. For the second year running, we spent a weekend away from league action with a trip to Spain including a friendly at the Pinatar Arena which ended 1-1, this time against CSKA Moscow after Salomon Rondon opened the scoring. Rondon opened the scoring again as we beat Huddersfield 2-0 with Ayoze Perez also netting, the game also saw Miguel Almiron (with Rondon doing the same shortly afterwards), Sean Longstaff and Kenedy hit the woodwork, another 2-0 home win followed three days later, this time against Burnley as Fabian Schar netted what most fans consider to have been our been our best goal of the season before Longstaff netted his first Premier League goal. Longstaff's season was to however come to an end four days later as he went off injured at half time in a 2-0 loss at West Ham.
The first half against Everton was a complete nightmare - after Dominic Calvert-Lewin made it 1-0, former Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved a poor Matt Ritchie penalty (he's been lucky to stay on the pitch after rugby tacking Salomon Rondon) before Richarlison made it 2-0 shortly afterwards (play should've been stopped with Isaac Hayden down injured). The second half was a completely different story though as Rondon halved the deficit and after Pickford grinning at a missed chance by Rondon, he made an error which allowed Ayoze Perez to equalise before the Spaniard netted the winner. Rondon scored a free kick with the last kick of the half to give us the lead at Bournemouth following an amazing run from Miguel Almiron but Joshua King's brace gave Eddie Howe's side the lead before the last kick of the second half also resulted in a Newcastle goal as Matt Ritchie volleyed home on his return to Dean Court to give us a 2-2 draw. The first two games after the March international break ended in losses - 2-0 at Arsenal and 1-0 at home to Crystal Palace but Ayoze Perez scored the only goal as a 1-0 win at Leicester all but assured safety and he netted a hat-trick as we beat Southampton 3-1 as we mathematically secured our Premier League place for 2019/20 but Miguel Almiron's season was over after he suffered a hamstring injury but there's no doubt he made a superb impact even though he couldn't quite get a goal for us this season.
Attention that turned to Rafa Benitez's future and he seemed more positive about staying towards the end of the season, Perez opened the scoring before going off injured in a 1-1 draw at Brighton as Kenedy disappointed after coming on for him. The final home game of the season was marred by fights as Liverpool fans were wrongfully allowed in the home sections of St James' Park but it was a superb game on the pitch as goals from Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah either side of Christian Atsu's only goal of the season gave the title contenders a 2-1 lead at the break. Salomon Rondon made it 2-2 in the second half but Divock Origi headed home to break Geordie hearts but the final game of the season at already relegated Fulham didn't go like some previous trips to already relegated sides in the past (West Brom 2003, Watford 2007, QPR 2015 and Aston Villa 2016) as we won 4-0 with goals from Jonjo Shelvey, Ayoze Perez, Fabian Schar and Salomon Rondon. And after Sunderland failed to get up from League One, a takeover and Rafa signing on would be the icing on the cake for another season of laughs and proving many people wrong, would be even better after the situation we were in in October.
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