Rumours, then, of Newcastle United’s demise were rather exaggerated.
Ten months after sliding from the Premier League, and much of the nation’s football vision as a result, the club completed their immediate return.
In the process they became only the second team out of the last 18 relegated to do so automatically. It is not as easy as people assume, and for that Rafa Benitez was serenaded by another crowd at St James' Park in excess of 50,000 supporters.
The fans have watched this club repair, rebuild and relaunch itself. Benitez had to strip it down to start again, and aside from a two-game slip at the campaign’s start, it has always felt like a campaign that would end with Newcastle back amongst the country’s elite in the richest league in the world.
“It feels really good,” said Benitez. “I’m really proud of everyone because we knew it would be difficult at the beginning, when everyone was saying, ‘Rafa has no experience of the Championship and it will be tough’.
“They were right, it was very difficult, but the commitment and hard work of the players every day, and the staff and everyone involved, and then the support of the fans, has made a massive difference. It is a day we have to remember because it is not easy to go down, and then come straight back up first time.
“My feelings when I walked on the pitch were similar to what I have been feeling all year. The fans have been amazing with me, their loyalty and everything it means to being a top team like this, with the city behind you. That is why I decided to stay, and now I am even happier than before that I made this decision. I am really proud and really pleased.”
It was a bitterly cold night in the north-east, and it was a nervy one too. The slope to relegation had been long and the recovery has taken time, but there was joy by the time the referee Andrew Madley blew the final whistle and a city felt its pride in its football team.
It was only the second time in the club’s 125 year history that promotion - of which there now have been six - had been confirmed on home soil.
To get there Newcastle had to recover from an equaliser, after taking an early lead in the seventh minute. Matt Ritchie’s right wing corner was flicked on by Jamaal Lascelles to the far post and Ciaran Clark’s shot deflected into the Preston goal from Ayoze Perez.
Preston, for their part, had missed the chance to equalise in the eleventh minute when Daniel Browne burst through and was denied only by a fine save from the recalled Rob Elliot. It was a warning, however, and three minutes later, Tom Barkhuizen crossed from the left, Clark lost his man and Jordan Hugill scored with the use of his shin.
It did not so much galvanise the home side as add to the nerves. The injury-time equaliser to Leeds and the recent loss to Ipswich were still felt, but they recovered and scored at the perfect time, 10 seconds before the first 45 minutes had finished.
There was a mistake from Preston this time, and Isaac Hayden, who has had a fine season following his move from Arsenal, drove through the heart of the visitors, played the ball to his right, where Aleksandar Mitrovic played a first time ball into the path of Christian Atsu. The on-loan Chelsea winger took a touch and then clipped a neat, left footed finish into the bottom corner of Chris Maxwell’s goal.
The fight was fading from Preston but the real hammer blow came just past the hour mark, when Ritchie’s right wing corner was acrobatically volleyed goalwards by Perez. It was saved, with the rebound falling to to Hayden whose shot was handled by the Preston captain and midfielder Paul Gallagher.
For that he was dismissed, and from the penalty Ritchie scored Newcastle’s third. Just four minutes later, Shelvey’s corner struck a post and Perez was on hand again to add the fourth.
It was done then. Newcastle were up.
“Now is the time to enjoy what we have done,” added Benitez. “I am sure if we do the right things, we have to prepare everything to be strong enough for the Premier League. We have to wait and enjoy it, play another two games and see where we are.”
He was asked if he will be in charge. “You never know, that is football!” he said. “I am really pleased to be here, and really happy and proud for everything we have achieved. Hopefully, we can put in the foundations for something that will be a guarantee for the future.”
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Elliot; Anita, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Shelvey (Colback 76), Hayden; Ritchie, Perez (Murphy 83), Atsu (Gouffran 68); Mitrovic.
Preston (4-1-4-1): Maxwell; Browning, Boyle, Huntington, Spurr; Gallagher; McGeady (Horgan 72), Browne, Johnson, Barkhuizen; Hugill.
Ref: Mr Andrew Madley