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2023/24 season review: A rollercoaster ride

Another season came to end last Sunday and it's safe to say it has been a rollercoaster ride for us. We played Champions League football for the first time and had plenty of memorable wins but also suffered many injury problems and some very embarrassing defeats. That being said, 7th place is definitely an impressive season under the circumstances but unfortunately, Manchester United's FA Cup win after their 8th place finish has meant there'll be no European football for us next season.

Pre season saw Matty Longstaff and Ciaran Clark being among the players released as their contracts expired whilst Mark Gillespie, Matt Ritchie, Paul Dummett and Loris Karius signed new one year deals. Our first signing was £55,000,000 for AC Milan captain Sandro Tonali, who became the first expensive Italian player in football history whilst our first friendly of pre-season saw us come from 2-0 down to beat Gateshead 3-2 on a rainy afternoon thanks to second half goals from Allan Saint-Maximin, Elliot Anderson and Jay Turner-Cooke. That game turned out to be the last time Saint-Maximin would pull on a Magpies shirt as the impact of FFP led to him being sold to Al-Ahli for £23,000,000 with Leicester City's Harvey Barnes coming in for £38,000,000 to replace him. Meanwhile, Tonali's first outing saw us beat Rangers 2-1 thanks to goals from Miguel Almirón and Harrison Ashby before we flew to the USA to play three games in the Premier League Summer Series, drawing 3-3 and 1-1 against Aston Villa and Chelsea respectively before beating Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1.

By the end of July, Karl Darlow was sold to Leeds United whilst Jamal Lewis was loaned out to Watford and the final weekend of preseason saw the inaugural Sela Cup being hosted at St James' Park with Villarreal, Fiorentina and Nice coming to Tyneside. We beat the Serie A outfit 2-0 and the La Liga side 4-0 to win it whilst the women's team also got another chance to play at St James' Park, beating West Bromwich Albion 3-0. Before the Premier League season started, we signed right-back Tino Livramento from Southampton for £32,000,000 whilst the opening weekend of the season saw us hammer Aston Villa 5-1 as Tonali and Barnes got debut goals with Alexander Isak bagged a brace and Callum Wilson also got on the scoresheet as we went top of the league. Our first defeat of the season came a week later as we lost 1-0 at Manchester City before Lewis Hall was signed on loan from Chelsea with an obligation to buy. Things were looking good in our home game against Liverpool the following weekend as Anthony Gordon gave us the lead with his first goal at St James' Park before Virgil Van Dijk was sent off but a late brace from Darwin Núñez saw Jürgen Klopp's side win 2-1 before we went into the September international break 14th in the league after a 3-1 loss at Brighton & Hove Albion thanks to an Evan Ferguson hat-trick.

We did get back to winning ways after the international break as a Callum Wilson penalty was enough to see off Brentford 1-0 in a scrappy game before we travelled to the San Siro and held AC Milan to a 0-0 draw in our first Champions League game in 20 years. Our first away win of the season saw us demolish Sheffield United 8-0 with eight different players getting on the scoresheet with further wins and clean sheets coming at home to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup third round and Burnley with Alexander Isak scoring the only goal against Pep Guardiola's side before netting a penalty against the Clarets after Miguel Almirón opened the scoring. Almirón then netted our first Champions League goal in 20 years to give us the lead at home to Paris Saint-Germain before goals either side of half-time from local lads Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff made it 3-0, Lucas Hernandez got one back for Luis Enrique's side but Fabian Schär's stoppage time screamer made it 4-1 to cap off a remarkable night on Tyneside. Isak netted another two goals in a 2-2 draw at West Ham United just before the October international break before we climbed up to 6th with a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Our unbeaten run was ended when Borussia Dortmund came to Tyneside bottom of our Champions League group but ran out 1-0 winners with Felix Nmecha scoring the only goal as we suffered our first competitive defeat against German opposition before Sandro Tonali was handed a ten month ban for breaching Italian betting regulations, which meant he only made 13 competitive appearances in his first season for us and won't be able to play again until our Carabao Cup second round tie next season. Our first game without the midfielder saw us held to a 2-2 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers despite Callum Wilson's first half brace but despite eight changes and no recognised striker in the starting XI for our Carabao Cup fourth round tie at Manchester United, we ran out 3-0 winners as Miguel Almirón opened the scoring before Lewis Hall netted his first senior goal and Joe Willock got his first of the season after his injury problems. Another win and clean sheet against one of the so called 'big six' came three days later with Arsenal suffering their first league defeat of the season as Anthony Gordon netted the only goal but three days later, a second defeat to Borussia Dortmund in two weeks left us on the verge of an early exit from the Champions League and bottom of the group when AC Milan came from behind to beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 later that evening.

Our injury problems were mounting up and it showed in a 2-0 loss at Bournemouth in our last game before the November international break, particularly with Bruno Guimarães serving a one game ban after picking up his fifth league booking of the season against Arsenal. We bounced back with 4-1 win over Chelsea, a game which saw 17 year old academy graduate Lewis Miley set up Alexander Isak's opener and the Swede opened the scoring again to give us a dream lead in a crucial Champions League game away to Paris Saint-Germain. Whilst most fans would've taken a draw before kick-off, it felt like a defeat as the Ligue 1 side were awarded a controversial last minute penalty after a VAR review, Kylian Mbappé netted the kick to deny us a famous win and leave us needing a win over AC Milan to stay in the competition, although their 3-1 loss at home to Borussia Dortmund meant that we jumped above them into 3rd. A third successive win victory in all competitions over Manchester United followed as Anthony Gordon netted the only goal in a game that Erik Ten Hag's side were lucky to only lose 1-0 but Nick Pope suffered a shoulder injury towards the end of the game, which led to him being unable to play again until May.

The rest of December turned out to be a disastrous month and we suffered two consecutive three goal defeats away from home, losing 3-0 at Everton and 4-1 at Tottenham Hotspur before our European campaign ended in heartbreak as we went from being 2nd in the group at half-time when Joelinton's thunderbolt gave us the lead against AC Milan to finishing bottom with Christian Pulisic equalising before Samuel Chukwueze netted a late winner to give Stefano Pioli's side the consolation of a Europa League knockout place. We did beat ten man Fulham 3-0 to move up to 6th as Lewis Miley became our youngest ever Premier League goalscorer but then suffered another heartbreaking cup exit as our Carabao Cup quarter-final tie at Chelsea saw Mykhailo Mudryk take advantage of a stoppage time error from Kieran Trippier to level things up and take the tie to penalties with both Trippier and Matt Ritchie failed to score their kicks as we went out. Our last two league games of 2023 saw former players inflict further misery on us - Andros Townsend scored the only goal as we lost 1-0 at Luton Town two days before Christmas with the Hatters also keeping their first ever clean sheet in the Premier League before Chris Wood bagged a hat-trick as Nottingham Forest came from behind to win 3-1 at St James' Park on Boxing Day.

Our first game of 2024 saw us make the daunting trip to Anfield to face league leaders Liverpool and despite Martin Dúbravka making save after save, including denying Mohamed Salah from the penalty spot in the first half, we were beaten 4-2. This put even more pressure on us as we travelled to Sunderland in the FA Cup third round for our first meeting with our local rivals since March 2016 but a Daniel Ballard own goal gave us the lead going into half-time before Miguel Almirón dispossessed Pierre Ekwah and squared it to Alexander Isak to make it 2-0 early in the second half and Ballard gave away a late penalty for a foul on Anthony Gordon, which Isak converted to net his second of the game and seal our first derby win since August 2011. Both Isak and Gordon got on the scoresheet in quick succession as we came from behind to take the lead in the first half at home to Manchester City but our lack of options off the bench (particularly with Joelinton picking an injury in the derby that would keep him out long term) and Kevin De Bruyne coming on for his first league appearance since the opening weekend of the season made the difference as the Belgian fired home the equaliser before his pass to Oscar Bobb, who netted the winning goal in stoppage time. Whilst FFP restrictions meant that Javier Manquillo's move to Celta Vigo was the only notable bit of transfer business in January, we did finish the month with two away wins - goals from Sean Longstaff and Dan Burn either side of half-time gave us a 2-0 win at Fulham in the FA Cup fourth round before we gave Aston Villa their first league home defeat of the season with a Fabian Schär brace in the first half and an own goal from Àlex Moreno in the second half giving us a 3-1 win.

Six weeks after our defeat to Luton Town, Rob Edwards' side took more points off us with a 4-4 draw at St James' Park as they cancelled out Sean Longstaff's brace to go into half-time level then went 4-2 up in the second half before Kieran Trippier's only goal of the season halved the deficit and Harvey Barnes netted on his return from a freak injury picked up against Sheffield United earlier in the season to save us a point. A week later, we picked up a fourth successive away win all competitions as we beat Nottingham Forest 3-2 with Bruno Guimarães netting twice but we dropped more points at home with a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth before Arsenal got revenge for their defeat on Tyneside by beating us 4-1. Another poor performance saw us taken to penalties by Championship strugglers Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round but Martin Dúbravka saved Sammie Szmodics and Dominic Hyam's kicks as we reached the quarter-finals before picking up our first home win of 2024 with Wolverhampton Wanderers beaten 3-0 in a game which saw Tino Livramento score his first Magpies goal. Before the March international break, we suffered another two defeats on the road, losing 3-2 to Chelsea, a result which turned out be crucial in the race for Europe before our hopes of silverware were ended with a 2-0 loss to Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

We went into our Easter Saturday's home game against 7th placed West Ham United four behind David Moyes' side but with a game in hand. That gap looked set to become seven points as goals from Michail Antonio, Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen gave the Hammers a 3-1 lead but Alexander Isak netted his second penalty of the game to half to deficit before setting up Harvey Barnes to level the tie and the winger netted late on to gave us a dramatic 4-3 win. Isak continued his fine goalscoring run in the league to give us the lead against Everton but after Dan Burn had a goal ruled out by VAR for offside, Paul Dummett wrestled Ashley Young to the floor and gave away a late penalty, which Dominic Calvert-Lewin netted to give the struggling Toffees a draw. We bounced back with a 1-0 win at Fulham thanks to a late Bruno Guimarães strike before Sela donated their shirt sponsorship to deaf charity RNID for the home game against Tottenham Hotspur and on the pitch, Spurs suffered another hammering on Tyneside with Alexander Isak netting twice and Anthony Gordon and Fabian Schär also getting on the scoresheet in a 4-0 win, nearly a year on from our 6-1 win over them.

The win over Spurs put us up 6th in the table but a 2-0 loss at an in-form Crystal Palace meant that we dropped back to 7th before we picked up wins over Championship bound Sheffield United and Burnley as Callum Wilson got back on the scoresheet after over two months out with an injury and we moved back above Manchester United into 6th. Our final home game of the season saw us held to a 1-1 draw by Brighton & Hove Albion before we dropped back to 7th and below Chelsea with a 3-2 loss at Manchester United, who went back level on points with us going into our final day clash with Brentford. We needed to match their result to have a chance of playing in Europe and win to have a chance of beating Chelsea to 6th and after Ivan Toney was denied the opening goal by VAR, we raced into a 3-0 lead at half-time thanks to goals from Harvey Barnes, Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak. Goals from Vitaly Janelt and Yoane Wissa to get Thomas Frank's side back into the game plus Diogo Dalot giving Erik Ten Hag's outfit the lead away to Brighton & Hove Albion made things nervous for us but our nerves were settled once again when Bruno Guimarães netted to make it 4-2 as we sealed 7th place and finished above the Red Devils for the first time since 1977.

After the season ended, we flew out to Australia to take part in the Global Football Week at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Our first game saw us draw 1-1 with Tottenham Hotspur with Alexander Isak cancelling out James Maddison's opener before we won 5-4 on penalties with Mark Gillespie saving Bryan Gil's kick after coming on for Nick Pope. Gillespie did start against the A-League All Stars two days later but was the only senior player that featured for us in that game as Eddie Howe fielded what was essentially a reserve side, which suffered an 8-0 defeat against a far more experienced outfit.

Unfortunately, in typical Newcastle United fashion, we missed on European football when Manchester United beat Premier League champions Manchester City (who were unbeaten in 33 games in all competitions) to win the FA Cup. This also made us only the second team to finish in the top seven and still miss out on Europe since rules were changed on potential European places for FA Cup runners-up in 2014.

Right now, it feels like a kick in the teeth (probably even more so after the early European exit) but we have a big summer window ahead with defenders Tosin Adarabioyo and Lloyd Kelly heavily linked with joining us after choosing not to extend their contracts at Fulham and Bournemouth respectively and hopefully, the revenue from Sela's sponsorship and playing in the Champions League will be a boost to our transfer budget. No European football also means that Paul Dummett (who hasn't started a league game since January 2022) is less likely to get a new deal as there'll be no need to think about UEFA's rules on club-trained players.

Of course, next season will probably be easier (to be fair, it can't be much harder) with less games and bad luck with injuries and hopefully, kinder cup draws but it's still frustrating that once again, we've been unable to qualify for Europe again whilst playing extra games (even if we did better in the league than our last three seasons when we had the European games), even Conference League would've something to look forward to next season in my opinion.

Looking at the positives of the season, not only did we play Champions League football for the first time since 2003 but scored in every single home league game (the only Premier League side to do so this season), finally won a derby after years of hearing 'six in a row' from Sunderland fans and finished in the top half of the Premier League whilst having to play European football for the first time since 2004 whilst the women's team won a second successive promotion to reach the Women's Championship.

Going forward, hopefully we will get rid of as much of the deadwood as possible (Martin Dúbravka and Miguel Almirón playing well in the Euros and Copa América respectively would help) and bring in some good new signings whilst keeping our best players (as hard as it may be without European football). Meanwhile, Sandro Tonali's long awaited return after our first two league games of next season will be something to look forward to after the frustration of losing him thanks to an unforeseeable issue. Despite how frustrating things have been and are now, all we can do is look ahead to next season and hope to get back into Europe. Howay The Lads!



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