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Newcastle celebrate return to the Premier League in style
Published : 05 Apr 2010 21:54:21Rss feed
MOVE over Sheffield United, Blackpool and Plymouth. Bring back Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Newcastle United are heading for the Premier League and St James' Park celebrated in style tonight. Capping guaranteed promotion off with the victory that lifted them six points clear at the top of the Championship seemed the perfect end to the perfect day for the Magpies fans, who partied like it was 1993 all over again. For a club that was on its knees in May, in many respects that was still the case in August, almost 50,000 turned out to witness Newcastle bounce back from trailing to a first half Richard Cresswell header for Sheffield United to record win number 26 of a hugely productive campaign. It might not have been an all-action performance that has earned them 16 of those victories on home soil in the Championship, but Newcastle showed the spirit and at times the quality that has left them streets ahead of their rivals. After Peter Lovenkrands had converted a controversial penalty on the stroke of half-time to level things up, Newcastle looked the most likely to add a second and they did just that 17 minutes from time. It was fitting that Kevin Nolan, deemed the best player in the division this season, was the man who delivered, scoring a goal that had the mark of Premier League quality and leaves them seven points away from being crowned Championship champions. This was not a night for tension. Any worries that the inevitable would be delayed another few days disappeared before Newcastle had even kicked a ball, when Nottingham Forest failed to record the victory they required. And once the final whistle had been blown at the City Ground, the goalless draw proved the start of the celebrations as the Newcastle players emerged from the tunnel to a rousing reception from the fans who had entered the stadium early enough to see the warm up. After being run close at Peterborough, when many expected the promotion party to begin, Hughton signalled his intentions by naming the strongest team he had available, with five changes to the side that won narrowly at London Road. He might still have eyes on keeping Newcastle at the top of the Championship, but there was a sense that above all he also wanted to put on a show on the night it was confirmed there would be a top-flight return. It looked like his wish would be granted initially. When Jonas Gutierrez dispossessed Lee Williamson, Newcastle turned defence in to attack effortlessly. A short pass to Danny Guthrie allowed him to burst 30 yards, deep inside the Sheffield United half, exchanged passes with Lovenkrands before directing his first time shot from 18 yards wide of the upright. Moments later Nolan's exceptional through pass behind left-back Andy Taylor sent Wayne Routledge clear on goal, but the winger's aim was off-beam and his shot failed to test South Shields-born goalkeeper Steve Simonsen. For the ten minutes after that, however, Newcastle eased off and opened the door for Sheffield United to gain confidence in possession and dampened the atmosphere by taking a surprise lead in the 22nd minute. Incredibly it was from poor defending, something more associated with their life in the Premier League than in the second tier. Cresswell rose above Fabricio Coloccini at the near post to nod James Harper's corner beyond Steve Harper. But after the Blades fans chanted Premier League, you're having a laugh, Newcastle reacted in the sort of manner that has prevented more defeats from the 12 other matches when they have fallen behind this season. In the final 15 minutes of the first half, discounting the eventual equaliser from Lovenkrands' spot-kick, Newcastle created, and wasted, seven fantastic opportunities to level. Routledge blazed wide of the far post, Carroll headed wide from Guthrie's corner and Lovenkrands crashed an effort over the bar after Jose Enrique's delightful turn and pass. But Newcastle had cranked up the pressure when referee Andy Hall pointed to the spot, just moments after Simonsen acrobatically dived to his left to tip a bullet Lovenkrands volley away for a corner. The penalty was controversial, leading to the sending off Sheffield United's assistant manager and former Newcastle midfielder Gary Speed for his remonstrations, when Chris Morgan was deemed to have man-handled Carroll in the area. There was no doubting the finish, however. Lovenkrands ignored the protests, steadied himself and applied the low but precise strike in to Simonsen's bottom left corner for his 15th goal of the season. The second half had threatened to become something of a non-event, with neither goalkeeper tested until Harper dropped a cross at the back post which Sheffield United failed to make most of. Lovenkrands blasted another two of his drives over, after Guthrie's lay-off for the first and a sublime pass from Enrique for the second, and Gutierrez curled an effort against the foot of the far post after some neat wing play. And then the atmosphere reached new highs when Nolan, lurking unmarked 12 yards out as Lovenkrands nodded down Routledge's lob in to the box, shaped himself up before acrobatically volleying in his 15th of a memorable campaign. Goalmouth incidents were few and far between from there on in, although it hardly mattered, the job had already been done. Newcastle are back in the big time.