Newcastle United 3, Barnsley 0
Despite a not unexpected closing day defeat against a Newcastle United side for whom victory clinched the Championship title, Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom (pictured) was full of praise for what his players and staff had achieved this season.
Fourteenth place was better than most people had forecast for the Reds following their play-off promotion from League One and Heckingbottom reflected after the match at St James’s Park: “We speak a lot as a group and the players have given the staff a big round of applause for the efforts they have put it.
“We beg, steal and borrow equipment; we work our socks off in terms of time and the effort and support we give the players.
“If you look at Newcastle’s staff and our staff, the players know that our first team staff have been over-achieving as much as the players who wouldn’t be able to do it without the staff, and that’s part of what has been a successful season – not only the boys on the pitch, but the people off it as well.”
Heckingbottom also made it obvious that he was already thinking about next season.
“Five of our players are on loan and they will be going back, while others are out of contract and we are having discussions with them, but the main focus is on the boys we know will be here next season.
“It’s sad, and it’s another break-up of the team. but we have to start again and create another one.”
He concluded “I’ll speak to the players on Tuesday and then it’s about getting in as many more good players through the door as we possibly can. I’m excited for next season.”
As for the team’s last-day performance Heckingbotton commented: “We had to get everything right to come to Newcastle and win. We had to play a perfect game and we didn’t.
“We had a really good start, at least as far as the final third. Even after the first goal we still had good possession, but we didn’t cause them any problems.”
That has been an issue during the Reds’ poor run since January and is a situation that clearly requires considerable improvement before the start of next season.
As far as work rate, organisation and discipline were concerned there could be no complaints about Barnsley’s performance, but Newcastle were far superior when it came to translating possession into goals.
The Reds were bright and busy in the first 20 minutes, but they never really threatened to score, their only on-target effort coming from Josh Scowen and that was comfortably dealt with by Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliott.
It was only a couple of minutes later that the home team – who needed to better Brighton’s result against Aston Villa to snatch the title – took the lead when Ayoze Perez cleverly converted Christian Atsu’s cross.
Atsu himself was then twice foiled by excellent saves from Adam Davies, and Massaido Haidara missed a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 seconds before the interval whistle.
It looked ominous for the Reds at that stage and there was to be no way back for them after the interval.
Newcastle were now confidently calling the tune and within 15 minutes of the restart Rafael Benitez’ side had doubled their advantage, Davies initially making yet another praiseworthy save only for the ball to fall at the feet of Chancel Mbemba, who gleefully rammed home the rebound.
Sensing that the top spot was to be theirs in a first-time return to the Premiership, the Magpies were now in full flight. Davies turned a header from Alexsandr Mitrovic over the bar; Jonjo Shelvey struck the post, and in the last minute Dwight Gayle made it 3-0 to put the seal on the Championship title, Brighton having conceded a late equaliser at Villa Park.
As for Barnsley they could be justifiably proud of their achievement in exceeding all pre-season expectations by finishing a very creditable 14th in the table.
Newcastle United: Elliott; Yedlin, Mbemba, Hayden (Haidara, 13 mins), Dummett, Colback, Shelvey (Diame, 72 mins), Gouffran, Perez (Gayle, 80 mins), Atsu, Mitrovic.
Barnsley: Davies; Janko,Jackson, MacDonald, Elder, Hedges (Watkins, 54 mins), Scowen, James, Moncur, Kent (Williams, 74 mins), Bradshaw (Lee, 74 mins).
Bookings: Shelvey (Newcastle).
Referee: James Linington.
Attendance: 52,276 (2,700 away).