Five games which defined Newcastle's remarkable Premier League return

Newcastle United held onto a spot in the top ten thanks to an emphatic victory over Chelsea at St James's Park on the final day of the season.
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It was a fine end to a successful season following promotion from the Championship last year, and gave more weight to the managerial qualities of Rafa Benitez.

Club legend Alan Shearer summed up the feeling among the Newcastle support on Sunday's Match of the Day when he said: "He's got Newcastle into 10th position. If he can do that with that squad, can you imagine what he could do with some backing and some finance."

Ayoze Perez, left, celebrates his goal against Chelsea (Pic: Stephen Dobson)Ayoze Perez, left, celebrates his goal against Chelsea (Pic: Stephen Dobson)
Ayoze Perez, left, celebrates his goal against Chelsea (Pic: Stephen Dobson)
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Here are five matches which defined the club's Premier League campaign:

Huddersfield Town 1 Newcastle United 0 – August 20, 2017

Rafa Benitez's men were welcomed back to the Premier League with a 2-0 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. While disappointing, it can certainly be explained, Spurs being seen as a genuine contender for the league title.

The following week, however, brought a more sobering experience.

Jamaal Lascelles after Newcastle's win at the London StadiumJamaal Lascelles after Newcastle's win at the London Stadium
Jamaal Lascelles after Newcastle's win at the London Stadium

The Magpies had won 3-1 at Huddersfield's John Smith's Stadium Stadium towards the end of the Championship season in March last year. They had shown their superiority.

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Benitez would have targeted the visit to Yorkshire as a key fixture to get points on the board early on. It is something the Spaniard is so adept at, getting the better of those teams he sees as rivals.

Unlike Benitez, Huddersfield manager David Wagner had been busy in the transfer market. This freshness added to the feelgood factor around the club, with thousands of clappers making a racket. It was the familiar face of Aaron Mooy who grabbed the winner.

Despite the clear lack of penetration, Benitez showed why he is paid the big-bucks, offering a degree of prescience in the aftermath.

Matt Ritchie celebrates his goal against Manchester UnitedMatt Ritchie celebrates his goal against Manchester United
Matt Ritchie celebrates his goal against Manchester United

"We can compete with any team at the end of the season if we do what we have to do, because, tactically, we will be stronger, we will have more confidence, we will know each other much better," he said.

Newcastle United 0 Watford 3 – November 25, 2017

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An "embarrassment". That's what Alan Shearer labelled the loss to the Hornets, and understandably so. Everything that could go wrong, did.

Injuries were an issue going into the game, no bigger miss than captain Jamaal Lascelles. He could only watch on as Newcastle imploded defensively, while offering little in the way of creativity and goal threat.

The conclusion of the game meant it was only one goal in 364 minutes of football for the Magpies. It highlighted the lack of individual quality in the team, the importance of Lascelles and the need for the players to buy into the collective, to work harder than the opposition.

It was a result and performance that suggested the club would be involved in a relegation battle and that work was required in the January transfer window.

West Ham United 2 Newcastle United 3 – December 23, 2017

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By December 18, every team in the Premier League had payed 18 times and Newcastle languished in 18th place, only the bottom side Swansea City had lost more games.

Coming into the club's first visit to the London Stadium the Magpies had not won in nine, losing eight with injury and suspension issues, especially in the centre of midfield.

And it did not start well. Surprise starter Henri Saivet presented West Ham forward Marko Arnautovic with the opening goal within the first ten minutes. The Senegalese was chosen to partner his countryman Mohamed Diame in the middle due to his understanding of the game.

He rifled in a free-kick only a few minutes after giving up the opening goal. The Toon Army never looked back with Diame and Christian Atsu adding a second and third after the break.

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West Ham pulled a goal back but Newcastle held on for a deserved win.

Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 0 – February 11, 2018

The clash of the Uniteds is always one which piques interest. But it is a fixture which Newcastle have struggled with. Since the famous 5-0 win at St James's Park in October 1996, the Magpies have won only five of 41 encounters with the Red Devils.

That record makes the wins, when they come, even more special and St James's Park even more boisterous.

Rafa Benitez showed every ounce of his managerial nous. Organisation and structure were key. Jonjo Shevley and Mohamed Diame got the better of the formidable and towering pairing of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Benitez got the better of his old foe Jose Mourinho.

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Matt Ritchie latching onto a loose ball in the Manchester United box to slide a shot past David de Gea became one of the moments of the season.

The last word, however, has to go to Martin Dúbravka. Pitched in for his first Newcastle appearance, the Slovakian produced one of the all-time debuts for the club.

Newcastle United 3 Chelsea 0 – May 13, 2018

There were parallels to the final game of the 2015/2016 season when a sun-drenched St James's Park serenaded Rafa Benitez as the team ran riot against one of the division's leading lights.

Back then the team were looking ahead to a season in the Championship with fans doing their utmost to convince their manager to lead them back to the top-flight. This time fans were demanding, pleading, he stayed to build on a respectable first season back.

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Afternoons such as these offer the support a snapshot of what can be achieved under Benitez. The Magpies were rampant. At one point in the first-half Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, after yet another save, remonstrated forlornly with his team-mates to buck up their ideas.

With each attack, constructed by the increasingly influential Jonjo Shelvey, the noise grew louder, and louder. Newcastle could have led by three or four at half-time, and it would have been deserved.

They only had Dwight Gayle's header and a dishevelled looking Chelsea side to show for all their lively and slick play.

Martin Dubravka had to produce a wonderful safe in the second half to deny Olivier Giroud, the purge of Newcastle on so many occasions. He followed it up later with another stop to prevent Ross Barkley getting Chelsea back into the game.

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Yet, the home side were still in control, Ayoze Perez netting either side of the Barkley chance.

Newcastle had laid down a marker for next season. Now the wait to see who will lead the team into the new campaign.