Newcastle United will rejoin Europe’s elite in the Champions League next season after a 20-year absence following a 0-0 draw at home to struggling Leicester City which guaranteed a top-four finish in the Premier League on Monday.
It was not quite the glorious home sign-off the fans were expecting as Newcastle dominated from start to finish without finding the net, but they did not really care as the dream of Champions League football came to fruition.
“I can’t put it into words to be honest. If you told us two years ago this was going to happen, we wouldn’t have believed you,” midfielder Sean Longstaff told Sky Sports.
“We’ve beaten Juventus here 1-0 [in the Champions League], you see it on old DVDs. To be a part of this, I’m buzzing.”
Newcastle had 23 goal attempts to Leicester’s one and were denied by the woodwork three times as the visitors dug deep for a point that keeps their survival hopes just about still alive ahead of the final round of games on Sunday.
Eddie Howe’s Newcastle are in third place with 70 points and one game to play, four ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool who also have one match remaining. Fourth-placed Manchester United have 69 points with two games left.
After celebrating on the St James’ Park pitch with his players, Howe was asked what the targets had been back in August.
“Certainly wasn’t [top four],” the former Bournemouth manager told Sky Sports. “You always hope and always believe and you have to dream. But we didn’t feel we were ready for that.
“After last season’s battle against relegation, it really was whether we could consolidate and become a better team and not flirt with relegation like last season.
“I can’t praise [the players] enough for that mentality, their attitude what they’ve given me and the club.”
Bizarrely, after doing nothing but defend their penalty area for the entire match, Leicester suddenly looked dangerous in the five minutes of stoppage time and but for a superb save by Nick Pope from Timothy Castagne would have snatched a shock win.
The final whistle was met with huge roars from the St James’ Park faithful who could hardly believe the speed at which their club has been transformed since it was bought by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in October 2021.
Newcastle were without a win and stood 19th in the Premier League standings and heading for relegation after 14 years under their unpopular Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley.
But together with the appointment of Howe and some astute transfer business, Newcastle are back with Europe’s big boys.
“It means everything,” Newcastle full-back Kieran Trippier, one of the first signings after the takeover, said. “I took a risk when I first arrived but I always believed in every decision I made. The club has been through a tough moment but now we’re reaping the rewards.”