Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez celebrates promotion after the English Championship soccer match between Newcastle United and Preston, at St James' Park, in Newcastle, England, Monday April 24, 2017. After one season in the English Championship (second-tier), Newcastle United secured an immediate return to the Premier League by beating Preston North End 4-1 on Monday. (Owen Humphreys/ PA via AP)
NEWCASTLE, England (AP) — After one season in the English Championship, Newcastle United secured an immediate return to the Premier League by beating Preston North End 4-1 on Monday.
Under Rafa Benitez, the former Liverpool manager who won the Champions League during his time at Anfield, Newcastle enjoyed an impressive season although two defeats and a draw in its last three league games led to a few nerves at the north-east club.
One of England's best supported clubs which regularly attracts crowds more than 50,000 for home games, Newcastle sealed promotion with two matches remaining.
Championship leader Brighton and Hove Albion secured one of the two automatic promotion places a week ago. Brighton leads Newcastle by four points.
Benitez was unable to save Newcastle from relegation last season after being appointed for the last 10 games, but decided not to activate a clause in his three-year contract allowing him to leave if the club was demoted.
The former Real Madrid manager, after meetings with owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley, announced his intention to stay in May and his decision has been vindicated.
Despite selling Dutch midfielder Gini Wijnaldum to Liverpool for a reported 25 million pounds following relegation, Benitez has acted astutely in the transfer market.
The signings of striker Dwight Gayle from Crystal Palace and Scotland winger Matt Ritchie from Bournemouth have paid dividends, with Gayle scoring 22 league goals and Ritchie 12.
An awful start to the season when Newcastle lost its opening two league games was quickly erased with five successive wins, creating a momentum that stalled only in the past month, on the verge of promotion. It got there in the end.