If the celebrations outside St James’ Park at the news of Newcastle’s change in ownership told you anything, it was that long overdue success was coming to Tyneside.
Success comes in many forms, but a return to the Champions League is certainly one, and one the club have achieved much quicker than even the most optimistic fans could’ve hoped for.
It’s not much more than a year ago that Newcastle were being forced to confront the possibility that, despite the Saudi takeover, they would have to earn their way back to the Premier League.
Newcastle were joint-bottom at Christmas, having won just one game all season. Thankfully, the teams around them weren’t much better, and they were always within touching distance of getting out of trouble.
The way they did it, however, was remarkable.
After Christmas, their form was the fourth best in the division, picking up almost two points a game. Replicated over a full season, it would be enough to secure Champions League football, and it’s what Newcastle have done this time around.
While Newcastle have spent around £300m in three transfer windows, the signings of Chris Wood, Dan Burn, Kieran Trippier and Co. suggested the building process would be slow and considered, rather than immediately splashing out on star names.
But the recruitment has been shrewd. Few signings can be categorised as underwhelming when seeing their impact on the squad, with the majority playing big roles in Eddie Howe’s starting XI as the Magpies have marched up the table.
They’ve been tight at the back, conceding the fewest goals in the league, and despite failing to score in 10 games, they’re amongst the league’s highest scorers, scoring four goals or more on no fewer than seven occasions.
The start of the season is now a distant memory, when Newcastle drew five of their opening seven games, winning one and losing one, to linger in mid-table. But a terrific pre-World Cup run of seven wins and one draw catapulted them into the Champions League places, and only a post-World Cup stumble of two wins from nine jeopardised that.
But with the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham struggling at various stages of the season, not to mention Chelsea’s complete implosion, it opened up a space at the top table for the Magpies.
Even Manchester United were overtaken as they struggled to juggle European fixtures with their domestic efforts, and it’s a headache Howe will be delighted to have next season with a new generation of Toon fans hoping to create their own memories in the vein of Tino Asprilla’s hat-trick against Barcelona.
Dropped points against Arsenal and Leeds briefly threatened their position, but despite Liverpool’s late-season resurgence, the Magpies had enough points in the bag to get over the line, and for the first time since 2012/13, Newcastle fans can dust off their passports.
There is a slight caveat in their return to the Champions League, however.
While Newcastle are assured of a group stage appearance, with no recent European history to call upon, they’re also set to be drawn from pot four, where they will face the higher-seeded clubs, and being in a group with two of PSG, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Inter and Real Madrid is a real possibility.
Not that they’ll mind. For the first time in 20 years, Newcastle will be competing with Europe’s elite once again.