Newcastle United 4 Preston North End 1
Newcastle United FC
- Andy Madley
Newcastle United clinched their return to the Premier League after overcoming ten-man Preston North End on a memorable night at St. James’ Park.
Ayoze Perez struck a brace as United maintained their Indian sign over the Lilywhites, netting his first just five minutes in.
However, Simon Grayson’s side soon hit back through Jordan Hugill, and more than matched the Magpies for much of the first half.
But, from the moment Christian Atsu slotted United back in front just before the break, the visitors never looked like spoiling the party.
With Preston dead and buried, the Magpies were able to ease over the line in the end, becoming just the second side out of the last 18 relegated from the Premier League to bounce straight back up automatically.
They looked to be well on their way thanks to Perez’s opener early on.
Jamaal Lascelles rose high to meet Ritchie's corner at the near post, and his downward header dropped perfectly for the Spaniard, who stabbed home from just a couple of yards out.
Only minutes later, though, United were caught napping at the other end. Gallagher set Daniel Johnson away through the middle, but – with ample time to pick his spot – the Jamaican failed to get the better of returning ‘keeper Rob Elliot, who came off his line to block.
Newcastle failed to heed the warning signs, however, and parity was restored before the quarter-of-an-hour mark.
Again, the Magpies were exposed at the back, with Preston breaking at speed. Tom Barkhuizen whipped in a cross from the left, and Hugill found the far corner with a fine first-time finish.
A quick-fire turnaround was almost completed after the most basic of moves 25 minutes in. ‘Keeper Chris Maxwell picked out Barkhuizen’s run with a searching ball over the hosts’ defence, but the former Blackpool forward scuffed wide of Elliot’s near post.
In truth, Newcastle failed to make their presence felt for much of the first half, but – just before the break – the visitors shot themselves in the foot.
Communication broke down between Johnson and Aiden McGeady in the middle of the park, allowing Hayden the chance to intercept. He fed Aleksandar Mitrovic, who unselfishly teed up Atsu to fire United back in front.
Less than two minutes into the second half, lighting almost struck twice. The Lilywhites hesitated on the edge of their own area, and Ritchie nipped in to gather possession. After a half-clearance, the ball broke for Perez, who brought a fine save out of the advancing Maxwell.
Just after the hour-mark, Hayden collected Jonjo Shelvey’s low-struck corner at the near post, but – after a smart turn from the midfielder – Maxwell got down well to block.
Seconds later, though, Newcastle put any lingering worries to bed.
Again, they were in part helped by the Lilywhites themselves, as Gallagher handled Hayden’s goalbound effort following Ritchie’s corner. The midfielder was dismissed, and Ritchie coolly found the net from the spot.
And, within the blink of an eye, United increased their advantage further. Shelvey’s corner from the left was somehow allowed to fly through the heart of the penalty area and onto the far post, with Perez left with the simplest of finishes just inches from the line.
With the St. James’ Park faithful in full voice, Mitrovic came close to capping off a neat team move 15 minutes from time, but failed to keep his left-footed effort on target.
Substitute Yoan Gouffran almost added a fifth in stoppage time, but 4-1 was how it finished.
Cue scenes of immense joy on the terraces and a lap of honour on the pitch, as the Magpies reclaimed their place in the top-flight with two games to spare.