Newcastle United have secured an automatic return to the Premier League with a convincing home victory over Preston.
Christian Atsu gave the Magpies 2-1 lead at half-time after Jordan Hugill had leveled an Ayoze Perez opener.
Newcastle fans were relieved when Preston’s Paul Gallagher was sent off for handling on the line and Matt Ritchie scored the resulting penalty.
Perez got his second from close range to send Newcastle up with Brighton.
Rafael Benitez’s side had taken only one point from their previous three matches, but their late-season wobble was not punished by their closest rivals.
Defeats for Reading and Huddersfield on Saturday left Newcastle needing one more win to guarantee a top-two finish.
Benitez had made a huge impression on Newcastle supporters in his two-month stint at St James’ Park, despite being unable to save the Magpies from dropping out of the Premier League at the end of last season.
He was widely expected to leave a club destined for the Championship – he was, after all, a former Champions League winner with Liverpool and had been in charge of Spanish giants Real Madrid only two months before replacing Steve McClaren.
However, instead of activating the break clause allowing him to leave Newcastle in the event of relegation, the Spaniard chose to sign a three-year contract.
“The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence for me,” said Benitez in May 2016, upon signing his new deal.
“This is a huge club and I wanted to be part of the great future I can see for Newcastle United. The main thing for me is that I have assurances that we will have a strong team – a winning team.”
Benitez told BBC Newcastle after the match: “I have to congratulate the players, the staff, everyone here in the club and city.
“In the end, it was a very difficult task because it’s a very difficult division and we had to keep going and pushing. There are a lot of things you cannot control but in the end, we are where we wanted to be.
“This day is massive because everyone said at the beginning you have to go straight up. You know from experience it’s not easy for any team, especially when you go down and have to change half the squad.
“I think it’s a really important achievement for everyone involved because you have to keep strong mentally and keep going for so many months.”