It was late drama in the Championship title race as Newcastle United were crowned as champions of the Championship with a 3-0 win over Barnsley.
Brighton and Hove Albion were all set to be crown champions after a Glen Murray penalty but 10-men Villa found an 89th-minute equaliser from Jack Grealish confirmed the Magpies as champions to jubilant scenes.
On a day of celebration at St James’ Park, Isaac Hayden surprisingly partnered Chancel Mbemba at the heart of the defence with Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Grant Hanley all out through late injuries.
In front of a packed St James', Barnsley started the first 10 minutes on the front foot and threatened when Ryan Kent turned De Andre Yedlin inside and out but the finish was high and wide of the goal.
And while the Tykes started the better, the Magpies were dealt an early injury blow as Hayden was forced off due to his earlier head injury. Paul Dummett dropped into the heart of the defence while Massadio Haidara went into left back.
First blood to the Magpies
But the loss of Hayden didn't affect Benitez' men as drew first blood ahead of Brighton.
Christian Atsu and Yedlin accompanied each other on the attack down the right-hand side but credit went to Perez as he cleverly flicked the ball into the bottom corner on 23 minutes, just like he did at West Brom a few years ago.
False cheers from the Toon Army echoed around St James’ as rumours of a Villa opener had been scored but they turned out to be false.
Atsu's spark and Toon chances
Nevertheless, the Magpies were playing with full confidence with Atsu leading his side's attack. The Ghanian had the beating of his man on almost every occasion and he was so close to making it two on 27 minutes. Atsu hit a powerful shot which goalkeeper Adam Davies awkwardly parried over – inches away from the top corner.
The game was bursting in and out of life and the Tykes certainly looked threatening through their corners as striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was digging deep for his team to clear.
When Atsu found possession in space, Newcastle were at their most effective in attack as only a solid low save from Davies again denied Atsu.
As five minutes of stoppage time was indicated, Haidara missed the golden chance of some breathing space when Atsu's cross found its way to Haidara at the back post but the left back somehow failed to hit the target.
But as half-time came, Newcastle were 45 minutes away from winning the Championship title with Brighton drawing at Villa.
The wide area was where the Magpies continued to get their joy as this time Yedlin pulled it back before the ball eventually fell to Yoan Gouffran who had his on-target shot blocked by Angus MacDonald in the 55th minute.
First goal of Toon career
The Magpies were pushing for a needed second goal which came in the 59th minute from an unlikely source.
Another ball across the area caused problems as Perez supplied the assist for an unmarked Mbemba as the Magpies doubled their advantage.
Brighton take lead at Villa Park
After things were going in Newcastle's favour, news broke out about Brighton's penalty at Villa Park after cheers from the Tykes supporters.
The Villians were down to 10-men as Glen Murray dispatched the penalty meaning the Toon supporters prayed for an Aston Villa goal.
Carrying on as usual
Benitez' men could do nothing but wait as the Magpies continued to threaten the target.
On 69 minutes Mitrovic was denied a popular goal when Davies tipped over up the Serbian's header. Jonjo Shelvey then produced a stunning run forward before his shot connected with the outside of the post.
Shelvey, seconds later was replaced by Mohammed Diame.
There is a first time for everything
In the 79th minute, the excellent Perez departed to warm applause as top scorer Dwight Gayle came on to join Mitrovic as a central striker in a 4-4-2 formation for the first time this season.
Barnsley oversaw their best opportunity of the game in the 84th minute. Rob Elliot came to the rescue to save substitution Marley Watkins' header following a long ball forward.
The Tykes then aimed another effort minutes later when another substitution in Elliot Lee seen his long distance shot saved by the knees of Elliot.
Gayle made it 3-0 in the 89th minute momentarily before one of the biggest roars you will ever hear at St James' Park occurred.
Grealish will never have to buy a drink in Newcastle again as his late equaliser meant Newcastle United were crowned champions of the Championship.
Mike Ashley in the stands
As far as Benitez future on Tyneside goes, it became visible around the 15th minute that owner Mike Ashley was in the stands. Plans for next season look set to begin straight after the season is concluded where Benitez will put across views and funding ahead of their return to the Premier League.