Newcastle United are so close to returning to The Premier League again at the first time of asking following relegation last season you can almost see the iconic PL sleeve badges on next year’s brand new black and white kit.
Not to mention hear the £100M rightful share of TV and prize money flowing back into the St. James’ Park coffers as the glittering Category A ties against the big boys from Manchester, Liverpool and London are arranged on the eagerly-awaited new season fixture list.
As one of English football’s biggest clubs, Newcastle belong in The Premier League but 20 years ago so were Leeds, Sheff Wed & Sheff United as Gary Neville lamented in his ‘The north is being cut adrift in English football’ article:
“We’ve seen the demise of Premier League clubs in Yorkshire..Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday becoming marginalised. When I was growing up, trips to Elland Road and Hillsborough were among the biggest. They were FA Cup semi-final venues. They had a big club feel, as did Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland.
Newcastle are synonymous with passionate fans and small boys in No 9 shirts. I can remember our 5-0 defeat in an age when Newcastle could call on the likes of Shearer, David Ginola and Philippe Albert. It was a team of wonder goals and top foreign players.”
By appointing Rafa Benitez last March, Newcastle made a statement to recover their true stature.
It wasn’t that long ago when Newcastle – whose Entertainers side under Kevin Keegan was responsible for boosting SKY-high TV ratings into a different stratosphere – against Leeds, reigning Champions when the Premiership began, was one of the glamour ties of English football at the business end of English football’s top flight.
From Sir Bobby Robson’s men staying top of the Premier League in 2001 at the top of this article after a mesmerizing 4-3 comeback from 3-1 at Elland Road to Leeds’ part in the 1995-6 title race involving Kevin Keegan’s ‘Love It’ rant, the Yorkshire giants were once one of the true movers and shakers of English football.
Leeds, of course, won the last ever First Division title in 1991-2 before the English top flight was transmogrified into its modern guise as The Premier League and even reached The Champions League Semi-Final as late as 2001.
Yet since that heady high, its been a story of financial and football implosion resulting in the club being relegated from The Premier League to The Championship in 2003-04 and then down into League One in 2007.
More financial instability led to chaos on the pitch and the eventual controversial takeover by Massimo Cellino in 2014 as Leeds capping a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous in 13 unlucky years.
New manager Garry Monk has provided fresh hope of recovering former glories under the ownership of Italian Adrian Radrizzani guiding Leeds into the play-off spots
“We have a great game at Newcastle coming up now,” Monk explained. ““They are two huge clubs with a lot of fans and it is our determination to show we can be as good away from home as we are at home.”
Yet the game at Elland Road was also hyped up back in November as a Clash of the Titans yet Newcastle made a mockery of the hosts and dominated the encounter easily winning 2-0 thanks to Dwight Gayle’s brace.
Rafa Benitez is likely to be without his favourite striker Gayle, who was taken off at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday inside the first half with a hamstring injury on which he has had tests this week.
Yet this could be a blessing in disguise for The Magpies who have struggled at home recently and might benefit from a more gung-ho attacking approach involving Aleksandar Mitrovic perhaps fed crosses by Sammy Ameobi.
Both players would add a heightened degree of physicality which Newcastle can occasionally be accused of lacking – it was certainly the case in central defence when the more diminutive Chancel Mbemba was chosen ahead of Grant Hanley & Sheff Wed enjoyed aerial advantage and won the game with two headers from set pieces.
And Sammy’s ability to carve out chances as he demonstrated against Jose Mourinho’s hitherto unbeaten Chelsea in 2014/5 as well as score wonderful solo goals from range could be the difference between victory and defeat.
At 6ft 4in, the young Ameobi is a giant and if Newcastle boast a tall, strong, physical forward line of Mitrovic and/or Darly Murphy then its imperative Newcastle feed both great headers of the ball with dangerous crosses.
Newcastle thrived & won against Derby in a physical encounter with a Hanley-Diame-Mitrovic spine & beefing up the team could be crucial in continuing the Championship escape velocity Rafa’s Magpies have shown all season.
Leeds have been out of the top flight for 13 years and it took local rivals Middlesbrough seven long years to get back for what looks like a short stay in The Premier League, a Fate that will surely be Sunderland’s and ‘Boro’s next year and possibly even Hull City down with them in what would be a real collective blow to Northern football.
Yet The Magpies are reaching for the top again after what will surely be just a one-year hiatus in The Championship wilderness before setting sights for The Champions League once more. Football comes in cycles and the great Geordie football club is long overdue a period of real success which Rafa Benitez, backed by the near future introduction of Video-Assisted Refereeing is more than capable of delivering.