Newcastle United earned an impressive top 10 finish in style by trouncing Chelsea in front of a full house at St James’ Park.
In guiding the black and whites into such a respectable position, this proved to be the club’s best overall Premier League performance since 2014.
This big win against the 2017 Premier League champions was accomplished by Rafa Benitez despite his starting line-up containing eight of the players that featured in last season’s Sky Bet Championship campaign.
Benitez and his players made a deserved lap of appreciation at the final whistle but now attention switches immediately to the club’s boardroom with the former Real Madrid boss surely set to be handed a competitive summer transfer kitty and a new deal after working miracles on a shoestring budget.
With Mike Ashley not present at St James’, it will now be down to his close aides Keith Bishop and managing director Lee Charnley to make it clear that the 58-year-old must be trusted with some serious money to splash out in the coming weeks and months.
And if this performance wasn’t evidence of the quality Benitez brings to United then nothing ever will be.
Toon fans clearly know it and chanted: “Rafa Benitez – we want you to stay” as the game drifted towards a winning conclusion.
The sun was shining on St James’ Park and the Magpies made a lively start to their final game of the season.
After dominating in the possession stakes in the first 10 minutes, Jonjo Shelvey’s powerful low drive was parried away by Thibaut Courtois and then moments later Mo Diame was just inches wide with a curling effort from the left-hand side.
The Chelsea goalie was called into action again 10 minutes later as Ritchie’s cross was stabbed towards his own team-mate with the Belgian international forced into pushing the ball away to safety.
Diame stormed forward a minute later with his shot rolling just wide of the Belgium international’s right-hand post.
But the deadlock was broken on 23 minutes when Jacob Murphy caused Courtois to flap in the six-yard box with the ball dropping perfectly for Dwight Gayle who headed home his first goal since the the 2-2 draw away to AFC Bournemouth back in February.
Gayle looked like he was in the mood again on 26 minutes when he latched on to Ayoze Perez’s pass before rifling a low shot at goal with Courtois making a great save.
Shelvey slammed another chance wide while Perez trickled another effort just wide before the break.
Newcastle had racked up 11 shots at goal with Chelsea unable to manage a single shot on target.
The Magpies made a change just three minutes into the second half when Gayle – who had been clattered by N’Golo Kante in the opening 45 minutes – was replaced by Joselu.
Chelsea’s first shot on target arrived on 52 minutes when Olivier Giroud’s elaborate flick seemed destined to loop into the net before Martin Dubravka palmed it to safety.
The Blues created another opportunity when Ross Barkley made a run down the right before hitting it straight into the arms of Dubravka.
But Newcastle found themselves 2-0 up and in full control before the hour mark.
After the visitors were unable to hack clear a left-wing attack the ball eventually dropped for Shelvey who directed a low shot at goal with Perez calmly flicking it into the bottom corner to beat Courtois and double the lead.
With 61 minutes gone Dubravka needed to be at his brilliant best to keep out Barkley who found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat only for the Slovakian international to block with his legs.
However, it was game over on 63 minutes when Shelvey pumped in a free-kick from the right to pick out Florian Lejeune who diverted the ball into the path of poacher Perez who netted his second goal in four minutes.
Newcastle were able to pass the ball around with confidence in the closing stages and managed to create more chances.
Benitez made another change when he sent on Isaac Hayden with 18 minutes remaining to replace Ritchie who left the field to warm applause.
Joselu was played in with 10 minutes left but screwed a good chance wide of the post.
But Newcastle had this game won long before then on a day they rattled in 16 shots overall in a fine end to a great campaign.
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