A pint at Putney Bridge and a stroll by the Thames – then comes the hard bit for Newcastle

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

A stroll by the Thames after a pint at Putney Bridge on a summer's evening.

Is that so bad?

That's how the season will start for many Newcastle United fans.

It could be worse.

The club's Championship campaign starts with a televised fixture against Fulham and Craven Cottage on Friday, August 5.

It's a fixture that we've had a lot in the Premier League over the past 15 years.

Chris Hughton

Chris Hughton

It's a soft landing in an unforgiving division.

But it gets harder – much harder – over the following weeks.

After the first home game of the season – Huddersfield Town visit St James's Park the following weekend – there are fixtures against Reading, Bristol City, Brighton and Hove Albion in August.

And September isn't for the faint-hearted.

Back-to-back away fixtures against Derby County and Queens Park Rangers are followed by matches against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Norwich City.

It's relentless.

And there will still be 36 games to go once Newcastle get reacquainted with English football's bruising, and demanding, second tier in the first two months of the season.

There's a first trip to Elland Road in more than 13 years in November, and the club will play its first league fixture at Burton Albion's Pirelli Stadium – a fixture that is certain to be shown live – the following month.

And those long winter months will make or break United's hopes of returning to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Momentum is everything.

Newcastle are 2/1 favourites with bookmakers to win the division, just like they did in 2009-10.

But it's too early to make bold predictions and too certainly early to know what kind of team will take to the field at Craven Cottage.

There's a lot of work to be done – on and off the field – before the Fulham game.

The team that ended the last season isn't suited to the physical and mental rigours of the Championship.

It was gifted, but lacked character and leadership, two qualities United will need, above all else, next season.

By the time supporters head to Putney Bridge, the team should already have a different look.

In the pubs around the Tube station, which are always busy for Newcastle's visits to Craven Cottage, Rafa Benitez's name will be chanted, just as it was on the final day of last season when fans implored him to stay.

Thankfully, he stayed.

And thanks to Benitez, supporters will walk up Stevenage Road in hope AND expectation.

But there's no telling what the mood will be on the walk up to Gallowgate for the final game of the season against Barnsley on May 9.

A lot can happen in nine months.