BY JACQUE TALBOT
As the referee blew the whistle on Newcastle United’s Premier League time following the 5-1 demolishing of a hapless Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of the 2015-16 season, the atmosphere at St. James’ Park erupted. This doomed and demoted side, somehow and someway, found a saving grace in the form of a single messiah, Rafael Benitez.
A new wave of optimism suddenly envelopes Newcastle United and though they got off to a shaky start in the Championship, losing to both Fulham and Huddersfield, the positivity grew as fresh faces started to surface, and the alleged mercenaries left the club.
Last week saw Newcastle United equal their largest away win an almost effortless 6-0 thrashing of QPR. The last time the Magpies won by six goals away from home, it was in 1962 against Walsall.
Newcastle United fans are slowly remembering why they love football again. Initiatives such as the Gallowgate Flags have spawned, proving that both the supporters, the club and the manager are finally pulling in the same direction.
Each team in the Championship still has around about 40 games left, yet with Newcastle United there seems to be a certain inevitability among the supporters about their promotion.
Some supporters are even already confessing to having inner-thoughts of Champions League qualification next year; surely an insurmountable task given Newcastle’s current predicament, but it just shows how much belief and hope is resonating around Tyneside recently.
The bookies gave Newcastle the shortest odds ever set for a newly relegated side to bounce right back up. Ask any Newcastle United fan “why?” and their fingers would surely point to one man. It’s something the people up there are calling “The Rafa Effect”.
Not only has Rafa Benitez enabled the fan base to rediscover their love for football, it’s the players too. The promising England stars turned-castaways, now look like they are back to enjoying their time on the pitch.
Figures like Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle, both stuck on the bench for the most part by their previous managers, are now looking like they are coming into their own. With the new number nine Dwight Gayle scoring in each of his four games for the club, and the enigmatic Jonjo Shelvey showing his true potential whilst also getting on the scoresheet in the last two games with some fine efforts.
Newcastle United has been littered by want-away players such as Euro 16 star Moussa Sissoko. He had angered the fans by publically stating his desire to leave for Champions League football, and he finally got his wish with a move to Tottenham. Other players, such as Gini Wijnaldum, channelled their disinterest in the club by issuing weekly lacklustre and lazy performances.
In defiance of the big names leaving the Black and Whites, Rafa Benitez has actually strengthened his squad. His transfer dealings have been laudable, with eight players leaving the club and thirteen players arriving, the Spaniard now has two sets of first team elevens at his disposal to cope with the gruelling Championship schedule.
Today, just inside the Gallowgate End concourse, a small group of volunteers will spend four hours sellotaping about 500 man-sized flags to bamboo sticks. At 3pm these man-sized flags will be proudly flailed by fervent fans, coating the Gallowgate End. Three points today could see the club hit the top spot in the league table, with no foreseeable way of them ever moving.
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