As Newcastle United’s Championship campaign came to a close, injuries and suspensions began to pile up.
Gayle, Ritchie, Lascelles, and Clark, all who have been key players for the Magpies throughout the campaign, missed numerous games for different reasons.
This gave players who have been on the fringes of the squad a chance to shine. Luckily, many of them successfully took their chance.
Chelsea loanee Christian Atsu is obviously the one who stands out – it had been a frustrating season for the Ghanian up until the final few games of the campaign – there had been flashes, but he was never able to get an extended run in the team.
The Ghanian’s fine goal against Preston kickstarted a very positive end to the year – both individually and for the team as a whole. The strike put the Magpies 2-1 up late in the first half and was desperately needed, as Preston were looking the more likely to score at that point in a game in which United needed to win to secure promotion.
Atsu followed it up the next week with an exquisite free kick against Cardiff City – a largely drab game up to that point, which required a moment of exceptional individual quality to break the deadlock.
And, in the final game of the season, Atsu made sure Barnsley left back Callum Elder had a torrid afternoon, beating him time and time again. The Chelsea loanee helped set up the opening goal, playing Yedlin in down the line who then in turn played it in to Perez who finished brilliantly.
Obviously, Benitez can’t sign Atsu solely because of three good games, but it certainly gives him food for thought and, at £6.5m, he certainly wouldn’t break the bank.
Perez is another one who ended the year on a high. His goal to open the scoring v. Barnsley evoked fond memories of his delicious flick at West Brom away in 2014 – magnificiently caressing the ball into the far corner – and reminded us all what he’s really capable of.
The Spaniard a recorded a fortuitous brace two games previous on the day the Magpies clinched promotion back to the Premier League against Preston, however, he was still in the right place at the right time to bundle them over the line and secure United’s instant return to the Premier League.
Against Cardiff, we saw a Perez we’ve almost never seen before. Deployed on the left wing, the Spaniard had to track back all game long and worked extremely hard for the team. He made some fantastic tackles and really got stuck in.
For a player who has in the past come across as soft and weak, it’s highly encouraging to see the former Tenerife man doing the dirty work.
Speaking of the dirty work, Colback also finished the year with a couple of good displays. Against Cardiff, the Geordie schemer was partnered with Hayden in midfield and was given much more license to go forward. We saw the Colback that had been missing since his first year on Tyneside – the all-action, bundle of energy that stood out during his maiden campaign for the Toon.
And, against Barnsley, he probably had his best game in two years. He was excellent throughout (excluding his appearance in Paul Dummett’s celebration video).
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Mbemba, having been given a run in the team after being out of favour for the majority of the season, also scored his first goal in black and white on a day where everything seemed to go right for the Magpies.
All these players performing well can only be a positive for Benitez, who will need members of the current squad to step up next year if he wants to avoid a battle against relegation.
The players, fans, and staff will now enjoy their holidays with their families after ending the season as well as anybody could have imagined.
Long may the good times continue and let’s hope some of these players can continue to build upon their promising end to the campaign in the top-flight next season!