NEWCASTLE - The celebrations from a relatively meaningless third Newcastle goal had just about petered out when St James’ Park erupted. This time, it had real meaning.
A goal scored 200 miles away at Villa Park had drawn the biggest roar of the season on Tyneside. Brighton had conceded an equaliser and Newcastle would be champions.
Rafa Benitez said later that his heart-rate did not alter during those decisive moments. He was the only one of a black-and-white persuasion who kept their composure.
His players looked to the stands for confirmation. A data surge meant that even supporters were not sure if the scoreline on their mobile phones was as live as they would like. But then came a collective boom from the Gallowgate End. The Championship title was theirs.
There was only one name the fans wanted to sing. The strength of that backing for Benitez would not have been lost on owner Mike Ashley, attending his first home match of the season.
The Newcastle boss, whose side trailed Brighton by seven points a fortnight ago, will sit down with his paymaster this week and sell his vision for success in the Premier League. Ashley will have to prove he shares the Spaniard’s ambition, or risk losing the man who has saved his football club.
"I will meet him this week, but it’s always important for him, for us, to feel the love of the fans and the passion in the stadium," Benitez said. "We will be in contact to be sure we share the same ambition about how to improve, how to be competitive and do the right things.
"I already have an idea of what a successful club could look like. I think also he has an idea. I think we have to put both ideas together this week."
Without Benitez, this season would not have climaxed in such joyous fashion. Indeed, it could well have been played out to a fresh supporter uprising against Ashley.
As it is, at least they will both enter into their meeting in high spirits, especially given the drama of the title win.
The game’s first chance coincided with the opening goal on 23 minutes. Chelsea loanee Christian Atsu drove at a retreating backline and his flick set DeAndre Yedlin free down the right. The American centred and Ayoze Perez applied the most impudent back-heel finish from 12 yards. Atsu was then denied by goalkeeper Adam Davies. Perez was the provider with a clever flick and the Ghana winger was unlucky to see his low steer flipped around the upright.
On 59 minutes, Davies again did well to save from Perez, only this time for Chancel Mbemba to follow up with a close-range finish.
That was before news filtered through of Brighton’s opening goal at Aston Villa, killing the mood inside St James’. The title dream was all but dead as the game ticked towards a flat conclusion and substitute Dwight Gayle poked home a third in the 90th minute.
Within seconds, however, word spread of Jack Grealish’s goal for Villa. St James’ did not feel flat for long.