Newcastle United's 2016 Review: From relegation to rebuilding an entire club

Newcastle United's 2016 Review: From relegation to rebuilding an entire club

With only 10 wins in the Premier League, Newcastle United were sentenced to the second tier - but that proved to be the best thing that happened to them in 2016.

Katie Mishner

It has been a turbulent year for Newcastle United and no one could have predicted the trajectory from January to December. At the beginning of the year St James' Park was riddled with dillusioned fans in the Premier League who had accepted the inevitable fate which led to a fall in attendance and consequently a complete draining of atmosphere that was once loved by football fans.

Then relegation actually happened and now the supporters are filled with hope that has not been around for a long time. It is impossible to walk down Northumberland Street without seeing at least several people in the kit that the club sports, it is difficult to get seats to a match because it is often sold out and there is finally a buzz around the city once more.

Certainly 2016 has not seen Newcastle line their trophy cabinets with silver, but Rafa Benitez has been Newcastle's silver lining throughout a difficult 12 months.

New year, same Newcastle

The Geordie nation came into 2016 exhausted. Their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League had proved to be incredibly difficult (and predictable). 

Mike Ashley and his board had hired Steve McClaren, a vastly underqualified man for the job. McClaren's last win in the Premier League came in 2006 and he joined the club off the back of being sacked by Championship team Derby County.

The fans outlook was rejuvinated for the new year as the Mags added two British hopefuls to their ranks. Successful English players had been absent from the North East outfit for quite some time. Midfielding sensation Jonjo Shelvey came from Swansea City, while Andros Townsend left a long-term career at Tottenham Hotspur for some much-needed game time.

Shelvey's impact was felt immediately. In his debut game against West Ham, he demonstrated his vision as he delivered a ball from behind the half way line to the feet of Daryl Janmaat, who was making a run down the opposite flank of West Ham's box.

However, performances dropped away fairly quickly and it became obvious that it was not solely the squad that was in need of a rebuild. McClaren did not have the attention of the dressing room and the management were out of their depth.

Following a 3-1 defeat at home to newly promoted Bournemouth, the board finally decided it was the end for Steve McClaren and Newcastle for another season were left with the idea of a caretaker manager.

The 'Rafalution'

Newcastle did not find a John Carver but rather Rafa Benitez. The man who had been managing giants Real Madrid just months earlier, came to try and save the Toon.

He only had 10 games to keep Newcastle up, which proved to not be possible, but supporters were already won over by the Spaniard. Charming in his words but even more persuasive in his action, Benitez would drop even the best players in the team, like Wijnaldum and Shelvey, when they simply did not perform. 

The first game that he encountered as the Magpies' boss came on a monday, against league leaders Leicester City. Under Benitez the side already looked more organised but the lack of confidence in defence eventually caved as Shinji Okazaki scored from a biycle kick.

However, the quality performances grew under Benitez as he managed to win three games - including a bizarre 5-1 win over Tottenham, and drew four. Dropping those points did ultimately result in relegation for the Black and White Army, but the entire city was behind the former Liverpool man and wanted him to stay with them.

Benitez stuck with the Tyneside outfit and his conditions included full control over the transfer policies, which was music to the ears of the supporters. 2016 was looking bright despite being flung into the challenge of the Champonship.

Life in the second tier

Many players left the club, unwilling to battle for promotion. Moussa Sissoko finally earned his big move to Tottenham, Janmaat took off to Watford - with new boys Townsend flocking to Crystal Palace, and Winjaldum to Liverpool. However, with many outgoings came newbies who were suited to the demanding league. The entire defence was refitted as Jamaal Lascelles was awarded captain, most likely due to his post-match media speech following a complacent performance against Southampton. Ciaran Clark left Aston Villa, who were also relegatedto come and find a starting position at the club.

Best of all, Newcastle finally found a solid number nine: Dwight Gayle. The former palace striker has so far scored 17 goals for the Toon and shows no signs of slowing down.

Under Benitez in the second tier, other players have refound their form. Yoan Gouffran has shocked all with his four goals and his work ethic, while Shelvey has become the key part of Newcastle's game. 

However, it was never going to be easy coming into the Championship which is notorious for physicality and tricky mid-week fixtures - something Benitez was not fully versed in.

Complacency was to blame for two consecutive losses in the opening games, but once Newcastle had a handle on how these teams function and got used to playing together, performances began to marvel the supporters - how was it possible for this to be the same club that they saw at the start of 2016?

After a nine game winning streak, including a coherent and stunning 6-0 victory over QPR on their own turf, Newcastle soared to the top of the table. Each set of players fearing a visit either to or from the team.

The Championship has had its way with Newcastle at times showing the need to have players at their best every week.

In fact they are now experiencing that sensation, having only just broken away from, it looks as though they will finish 2016 playing second fiddle to Brighton and Hove Albion who capatalised on the dropped points from the Mags' loss to Sheffield Wednesday.

Even though the Boxing Day performance was vaguely reminicent of the performances in January, when the Toon and 2016 are thought of together the transformation of the club under Benitez should be at the forefront.

2017, if promotion is achieved, could be an even better chapter in the book of Black and White.