Newcastle clinches promotion, returns to Premier League after one-year absence
Newcastle is headed back to the Premier League after securing promotion with a 4-1 win over Preston North End at a euphoric St. James' Park on Monday.
The Magpies are eight points clear of third-place Reading with two matches to go in the season, meaning the second automatic promotion place is out of reach. Brighton & Hove Albion clinched first place in the league and automatic promotion last week, returning to the top flight for the first time in 34 years.
Newcastle's wait was considerably less, with Rafa Benitez's squad spending just one season in the second tier before earning its return.
The club made it slightly more interesting than it would have liked to down the stretch, following a nine-game unbeaten run with a 2-3-2 stretch over its last seven prior to Monday's cathartic victory. Led by Dwight Gayle's 22-goal campaign and a defense conceding less than a goal per game on average, though, the Magpies are headed back up.
Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu scored in the first half of the decisive win on Monday, with Atsu tallying a go-ahead goal and the eventual game-winner on a counterattack just before halftime.
The lead extended midway through the second half, when Matt Ritchie buried a penalty kick after Paul Gallagher was sent off for a deliberate handball on the goal line in the 65th minute.
Newcastle took full advantage, with Perez scoring his second–with the help of a fortuitous bounce–soon after to pad the lead at 4-1.
For U.S. national team fullback DeAndre Yedlin, the feat means a return to the Premier League, where he previously played with Tottenham and Sunderland. Yedlin watched Monday's match from the bench but will have no problem celebrating the promotion and what it means for his prospects, following the five-year deal he inked with the club last August.
The drama in England's League Championship is reserved for positioning for the playoffs now, with the five teams vying for the four places separated by six points. Reading (79 points), Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town (78) and Fulham (76) are currently in position to fight for a place in what is casually known as the richest game in soccer–the promotion playoff final–while Leeds United (73) lurks on the outside as the last club mathematically in contention.