Newcastle United stun Fulham ahead of crunch talks between Rafa Benitez and Mike Ashley

Three more years, please.

By Miles Starforth
Sunday, 12 May, 2019, 16:54
Matt Ritchie congratulates Ayoze Perez, right.

Newcastle United ended their campaign with the 62nd win of Rafa Benitez's tenure at St James's Park.

The club convincingly beat Fulham 4-0 on the final day of the Premier League season.

Will that win, the biggest of the season, be the last under Benitez? Will Salomon Rondon be back? Only time will tell.

Newcastle's fans left Benitez in no doubt of what they wanted – there were chants of "Rafa Benitez, we want you to stay" throughout the game from fans in the Putney End – but he will not let his heart rule his head this time.

And Benitez's future hinges on a meeting with Mike Ashley next week, when United's manager will ask the club's what his ambitions are the for-sale club while it remains in his hands.

Ashley was at a sunny Craven Cottage for the game, which left the club 13th in the league.

The billionaire smiled as he watched the team that Benitez built, on a budget, roll over relegated Fulham.

It was another glimpse of what could be achieved with more investment.

Newcastle, unrecognisable from the rabble inherited by Benitez just over three years ago, defended and attacked as a team.

Rondon, Jonjo Shelvey, Ayoze Perez and Fabian Schar were on target against the relegated club.

More than 1,000 United fans had made their way to the ground on a flotilla of boats

They disembarked at Putney Pier, across the River Thames from Craven Cottage, after a noisy – and boozy – trip up the river.

But will Benitez's journey with United come to an end this summer?

Craven Cottage was the venue for Newcastle's first game in the Championship under Benitez, and it will be his last unless he can agree a new contract with owner Mike Ashley.

The 59-year-old has taken the club a long way over the past three years, but he'll only recommit if he feels he can take it even further.

Benitez was cheered by United fans in the Putney End as he walked across the pitch before the game to take his seat. However, the 59-year-old was out of his seat in the ninth minute when Shelvey opened the scoring.

Shelvey, without a goal for more than a year, was unwisely left unmarked for a corner.

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Matt Ritchie delivered the ball from the left, and Shelvey, recalled to the starting XI along with Mohame Diame, controlled it and struck a looping shot on the half-volley.

It was a stunning start, but it soon got better. Perez pounced on the loose ball after Sergio Rico parried a low shot from Christian Atsu.

United fans, massed behind Martin Dubravka's goal, were soon taunting former St James's Park favourite Aleksandar Mitrovic, sold last summer and replaced with Rondon on loan.

Fulham fought back and delivered a series of balls into the visiting box, but Newcastle were able to defend them all.

They took their two-goal advantage into the break, when former United and Fulham striker Malcolm Macdonald was interviewed on the pitch.

Newcastle challenged Scott Parker's side to break them down in the second half. They defended deep and in numbers and tried to play on the counter-attack with the pace of Atsu.

United's third goal, however, was to come from another Ritchie corner.

This time, Ritchie's delivered found Schar, who headed home to score his fourth goal of the season.

That was game over, and Benitez soon withdrew Christian Atsu and Isaac Hayden.

Hayden – who hopes to leave the club for family reasons at the third time of asking this summer – applauded fans as he left the field, and there was a chant to "there's only one Isaac Hayden" as he headed to the bench.

Kenedy came on in a third change, and Rondon beat Sergio Rico at the second time of asking in the 90th minute to take his league goal tally for the season to 11.

Benitez applauded the club's travelling fans with his players after the final whistle as they again implored him to stay.

FULHAM: Sergio Rico; Christie, Mawson, Le Marchand, Bryan; Chambers, Zambo Anguissa; Ayite (Elliott, 74), Cairney, R Sessegnon; Mitrovic. Subs not used: Fabri, Kebano, Babel, Ream, De la Torre, S Sessegnon.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Dubravka, Hayden (Fernandez, 69), Schar, Lascelles, Dummett (Kenedy, 81), Ritchie, Diame, Shelvey, Perez, Atsu (Muto, 66), Rondon. Subs not used: Darlow, Clark, Cass, Watts.

Goals: Shelvey 9, Perez 11, Schar 61, Rondon 90

Bookings: Bryan 59

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Attendance: 24,979