Newcastle United crush Preston to seal Premier League return


Newcastle United secured an immediate return to the Premier League with a convincing home victory over Preston.

Newcastle celebrate the Ayoze Pérez opener that put them on track for an instant top-flight return. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle Utd via Getty Images
Newcastle celebrate the Ayoze Pérez opener that put them on track for an instant top-flight return. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle Utd via Getty Images

Christian Atsu put the Magpies 2-1 up at half-time after Jordan Hugill had cancelled out an Ayoze Perez opener.

On a tense evening at St James’ Park, Newcastle nerves were settled when Preston’s Paul Gallagher was sent off for handling on the line and Matt Ritchie scored the resulting penalty.

Perez got his second from close range to send Newcastle up with Brighton.

Rafael Benitez’s side had taken only one point from their previous three matches, but their late-season wobble was not punished by their closest rivals.

Defeats for Reading and Huddersfield on Saturday left Newcastle needing one more win to guarantee a top-two finish.

Nerves were evident among the players and the crowd, which was in excess of 50,000, until Ritchie converted his spot-kick to stretch Newcastle’s advantage against 10-man Preston with 25 minutes to play.

The hosts took advantage of poor Preston defending for all four goals, with Perez netting twice from corners and Atsu finishing a counter-attack in first-half stoppage time after North End had lost possession in midfield.

Vindication for Benitez

Benitez had made a huge impression on Newcastle supporters in his two-month stint at St James’ Park, despite being unable to save the Magpies from dropping out of the Premier League at the end of last season.

He was widely expected to leave a club destined for the Championship – he was, after all, a former Champions League winner with Liverpool and had been in charge of Spanish giants Real Madrid only two months before replacing Steve McClaren.

However, instead of activating the break clause allowing him to leave Newcastle in the event of relegation, the Spaniard chose to sign a three-year contract.

“The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence for me,” said Benitez in May 2016, upon signing his new deal.

“This is a huge club and I wanted to be part of the great future I can see for Newcastle United. The main thing for me is that I have assurances that we will have a strong team – a winning team.” BBC Sport

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