Rafa Benitez hails fans as Newcastle return to Premier League
A packed St James' Park celebrates as the Magpies return to the top flight just 12 months after relegation
Newcastle 4 Preston North End 1
Newcastle United are back in the top-flight of English football thanks to a 4-1 victory over Preston North End that confirms their promotion to the Premier League after a one-season absence.
With rivals Reading and Huddersfield both losing at the weekend, Newcastle knew that three points at St James' Park would secure an instant return to the promised land less than 12 months after the agony of relegation.
Newcastle experienced a wobble earlier this month with the finishing line in sight and one point from their previous three matches had some fans biting their nails. But if there were any nerves on the part of the players they were well hidden as they got off to the best possible starts, taking the lead on seven minutes through Ayoze Perez. Jordan Hugill then levelled for Preston but Christian Atsu restored the Magpies' lead on the stroke of half-time and after the break the hosts made sure of the victory after Preston defender Paul Gallagher was sent off for handball on the line and Matt Richie scored from the spor before Perez wrapped up the scoring with his second of the night.
The victory, in front of 50,000 fans, is another feather in the cap of Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez, who took over at the club towards the end of last season. Unable to prevent the club slipping out of the Premier League, he decided to remain in charge and his reward is a return to the top flight of English football, a place he knows well through his six years at Liverpool.
"I am really pleased to be here, and really happy and proud for everything we have achieved," said the Spaniard, who signed a three-year deal in May. "Hopefully we can put in the foundations for something that will be a guarantee for the future. The fans have been amazing with me, their loyalty means everything."
Asked why he had remained at Newcastle when they were relegated to the Championship, Benitez said: "Having this city behind you means everything. They should have a top team. That is why I decided to stay, and now I am even happier than before that I made this decision."
Happy not just for the club and the city, but also for himself, given some of the negative comments directed his way when he signed the three-year deal last year. "It feels really good" he said. "I'm really proud of everyone because we knew it would be difficult at the beginning, when everyone was saying, 'Rafa has no experience of the Championship and it will be tough'. They were right, it was very difficult, but the commitment and hard work of the players every day, and the staff and everyone involved, and then the support of the fans, has made a massive difference."
Despite the elation of Benitez and his squad, the Newcastle manager issued a discreet warning for the club ahead of their return to the elite of the English game. "Now is the time to enjoy what we have done but then I must make sure we do the right things," he said. "We have to prepare everything to be strong enough for the Premier League."