Newcastle United 2 Ipswich Town 2

IT was the sort of day when the sun shone but you could not help but feel a shiver down your spine and goose pimples running up and down your arms.

IT was the sort of day when the sun shone but you could not help but feel a shiver down your spine and goose pimples running up and down your arms. It was the sort of day which made being a Newcastle United fan something special.

When Alan Smith and Nicky Butt raised the Coca Cola Championship trophy above their heads, the roar almost shook the roof off St James’ Park.

Newcastle fans have not had a lot to celebrate and there were plenty, young and old, sceptics and romantics, cynics and hopeless optimists, determined to enjoy the moment.

It was a roar of joy and of release, but also of hope and expectation.

It was a roar which will have been heard a few miles down the road in Sunderland and further beyond.

If their Premier League rivals say they have not missed the Magpies they will be lying, just as any United supporters who say they have not missed the Premier League will be kidding themselves.

The Championship has been good fun, but it should come as a massive relief to be able to leave it behind again.

Through the smiles and the laughter, though, there was something else.

During the celebrations and the cheers there was relief.

Newcastle have dug themselves out of a hole they created for themselves, they have cleaned up a mess almost entirely of their own making and that cannot just be forgotten after ten months of football in an inferior division.

Mike Ashley appears to have fallen back in love with football and the club he owns. Both he and managing director Derek Llambias enthusiastically joined in the celebrations over the weekend and nobody can blame them for that, but nobody should be more relieved than they are.

Promotion and the financial support he has given this season has earned Ashley a degree of support few would have believed possible last summer, but there is still mistrust and there are still doubts.

They will remain for longer than he may think is reasonable, but when you have made as many mistakes as he did in his first two years on Tyneside it takes a long time to convince people you have really changed for the better. Forgiveness has to be earned and it may still have to be paid for.

He was still trying to sell the club when it began, but at least he has indicated his heart is in the right place since.

Now comes the next test. What is he willing to do to ensure Newcastle are not just back in the Premier League, but back where they belong in terms of competing in it properly again?

This has to be the start of something, not the end. Newcastle are not the sort of football club to ever accept the highlight of the next 15 years is a promotion from the Championship.

Promotion is a commendable achievement. The manner in which Chris Hughton and the players have rallied after the rout of relegation has been a remarkable triumph for strength of character through adversity, as well as brains, brawn and ability on a football pitch.

Perhaps the truly special thing about this season has been the spirit and unity which has surged through the club, shining light on such a dark period of the club’s history. It is this which gives many of their more world-weary followers belief that even better can follow.

For now, though, we can afford to reflect on what has been achieved – and in many ways the team’s performance against Ipswich Town encapsulated the nature of their campaign.

Newcastle did not play particularly well, but they were strong enough and experienced enough to grind down their opponents who failed to make the most of the opportunities they were presented with.

In fact, this was probably Newcastle’s worst home performance in months, but when you have spent most of the week since Monday toasting the title secured with a 2-0 win at Plymouth they can be forgiven for looking a little tired and lethargic. Ipswich were by far the brighter side in the opening exchanges, Steve Harper keeping out Jon Walters with his feet with less than two minutes gone as Newcastle’s defence struggled to clear a succession of corners.

Andy Carroll – last night named in the PFA’s Championship team of the year alongside clubmates Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique and Kevin Nolan – ensured Ipswich’s lack of a clinical edge was punished as he produced another wonderful header from Wayne Routledge’s pinpoint cross to give Newcastle the lead just before the half-hour mark.

Carroll has come on brilliantly this season and 19 goals is a fantastic return for a player in his first season of regular first-team football, but it will always be one soured by his problems off the pitch. Hopefully big lessons have finally been learnt.

Ipswich were level before half time when Connor Wickham pounced on a mistake by Enrique and drilled the ball home from 12 yards – and they should have taken the lead shortly after half-time when Gareth McAuley put a free header over from six yards.

The game appeared to be fizzling out into a draw when Butt, on as a substitute in his last home appearance for the club, was tripped by former Sunderland midfielder Grant Leadbitter in the area.

Shola Ameobi converted from the penalty spot but, as the party began in earnest in the stands, Walters scored perhaps the most insignificant equaliser in St James’ Park history in the fourth minu

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David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer