Newcastle joins Brighton in securing promotion to EPL
NEWCASTLE has clinched promotion to the English Premier League at the first time of asking after a 4-1 win over Preston.
A lively opening saw two goals inside 14 minutes as Ayoze Perez put the hosts ahead at St James' Park before Jordan Hugill levelled.
Christian Atsu restored Newcastle's advantage just before half-time and Matt Ritchie scored their third from the penalty spot, after Paul Gallagher's straight red card for handball on the goal-line.
The Magpies made their numerical advantage count as Perez grabbed his second of the night and they played out the closing stages to jubilant scenes.
Having suffered the heartache of relegation from the top flight last season, they can now look forward to a campaign in the Premier League alongside already promoted Brighton.
With two games to play Newcastle cannot be caught by the chasing pack and could still finish the season as champions if Chris Hughton's side falters.
Rafael Benitez sprung a surprise with his team selection, handing goalkeeper Rob Elliot his first start for more than a year.
It meant Karl Darlow missed out as one of five changes from the defeat to Ipswich and the rotation had the desired impact.
Roared on by a St James' crowd in the mood to party, Newcastle started brightly and Aleksandar Mitrovic almost profited from an early misjudgement by keeper Chris Maxwell.
The Serbia international then flashed a shot narrowly wide as the home side pressed forward and their fast start was rewarded after just seven minutes.
Preston failed to clear a Ritchie corner and a combination of Ciaran Clark and Perez bundled home at the back post, with the Spaniard getting the final touch.
But the visitors responded swiftly and Daniel Johnson squandered a glorious chance to level before Hugill grabbed his 13th goal of the season in all competitions.
The forward's measured volley capped a superb Preston counter-attack after Mitrovic's half-hearted penalty appeal was turned down.
The equaliser threatened to test Newcastle's mettle but they got back on track on the stroke of half-time.
A misunderstanding in midfield between Johnson and Aidan McGeady was seized upon by Isaac Hayden and when Mitrovic teed up Atsu, the winger made no mistake.
Preston retained a threat in the second half until captain Gallagher was correctly dismissed for handball on the line.
He palmed clear Hayden's goal-bound effort but the desperate act merely delayed the inevitable as Ritchie dispatched the resulting spot-kick.
With the party well under way in the stands, Perez tucked home Newcastle's fourth after the ball fortuitously fell into his path once Jonjo Shelvey's corner came back off the post.
Benitez's side will look to put Brighton under pressure when they travel to Cardiff City on Friday.