After the disappointment of 2015/16 season, Newcastle United looked to rebuild in the summer ahead of their return to the Championship. First on the agenda for Lee Charnley and Mike Ashley was to attempt to persuade Rafa Benitez to stay with the club despite relegation. Benitez had previously stated that his contract was only until the end of the season and would only be extended to a three-year deal if United were to remain in the Premier League. However, after the amazing reception given to him on Tyneside, Benitez decided to stay, to the delight of United fans.
Following this Benitez got to work whipping the side into shape. This begun with signing of Belgian goalkeeper Matz Sels from Gent from around £5 million. This would not be the end of Newcastle’s summer business. Sels was quickly followed to St. James’ by Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie. Signing for £10 million and £12 million respectively. However, United also saw departures with Townsend and Wijnaldum, two of last seasons stars, departing back to the Premier League. Another departure would see long-term club captain Fabricio Coloccini leaving to go back to his native Argentina. On the other hand, there were other departures which were less upsetting to United fans such as Moussa Sissoko’s departure to White Hart Lane.
Benitez also strengthened United defensively, an area in which they had looked very weak in previous seasons. Jesus Gamez was brought in from Atletico Madrid as well as Ciaran Clark, Grant Hanley and DeAndre Yedlin. He then further strengthened the midfield by bringing in Mo Diame, Issac Hayden and the loan move for Chelsea starlet Christian Atsu. After a busy summer, United were ready for the Championship challenge.
Newcastle started their Championship campaign with a trip to Craven Cottage. In front of the Sky cameras, Newcastle put in a less than convincing performance. United went behind to a Matt Smith header and never recovered. The game finished 1-0 to Fulham. Next up was the visit of Huddersfield to St. James Park with United looking for their first win. However, they would still be searching after a 2-1 defeat with Dwight Gayle notching up his first goal for United. The pressure on Newcastle’s next game against Reading seemed huge. However, Newcastle dealt with the pressure and managed to gain their first win of the season, beating Reading 4-1 thanks to goals from Hayden, Ritchie and Gayle. Finally, Newcastle United had their first points of the season. Next up was a tough trip to Ashton Gate where United notched up another win through Dwight Gayle’s neat finish.
Newcastle then began their League Cup campaign with Cheltenham the visitors to St. James’ Park. Ayoze Perez scored two on what turned out to be a comfortable evening for the Magpies. Newcastle then faced Brighton in the final game of the month. Newcastle went ahead early through a header from captain Jamal Lascelles. The game was then rounded off through a fantastic free kick by Jonjo Shelvey.
Newcastle United’s season was looking like it was starting to come together as they made the trip to Pride Park. United once again rode out comfortable winners through goals from Yoan Gouffran and DeAndre Yedlin. This was followed up by an amazing result in the capital as Newcastle destroyed QPR 6-0 with Jonjo Shelvey’s strike the pick of the bunch. However, in the following game, Newcastle were beaten at home by Wolves 2-0 in a disappointing performance capped off by Vurnon Anita’s red card. Despite this, Newcastle rallied days later to beat the same opposition in the EFL Cup with strikes from Ritchie and Gouffran making it a memorable night for the magpies.
Next up was a tough trip to Villa Park to face recently relegated Aston Villa side, after dominating a first half in which a Tommy Elphick’s own goal gave United the lead, Newcastle slipped away conceding a late equaliser to Tshibola to give Villa an undeserved point. However, in perhaps the best game of United’s year, Newcastle fans were given something to cheer about with an outstanding 4-3 victory over Norwich at St.James’ Park. The Canaries who were leading 3-1 after 69 minutes somehow managed to let their lead slip with United scoring two in added time through Gouffran and Gayle to produce some of the best scenes at St.James in sometime.
Feature Image credit: Martin Le Roy