By Russell Edge
Newcastle’s future lies in the hands of owner Mike Ashley ahead of their promotion back to the top flight, warns North East football correspondent George Caulkin.
The Magpies mathematically earned their promotion to the Premier League with a convincing 4-1 victory over Preston North End, ending their stint in the football league after just one season.
Ayoze Perez (two), Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie grabbed the goals to spark celebrations on Tyneside, and the Magpies still have a small chance of catching league leaders Brighton in the race for the title.
Rafa Benitez has been heralded as the architect behind the Magpies success, but North East sports writer George Caulkin believes it is owner Mike Ashley, and not the Spanish boss, who will determine the future of the Magpies.
The Sports Direct man has suffered a prickly relationship with the Toon Army, who have criticised decisions such as selling the stadiums naming rights (to his own company) and appointing the likes of Joe Kinnear and Steve McLaren as manager.
Writing for The Times, Caulkin said: “The list of Ashley’s unfathomable decisions is too long to assume that serenity lies ahead.
“There is always something lurking in the undergrowth at St James’ Park and, more often than not, it is the Newcastle owner.”
The multi-billion-pound man has taken a back seat at St James’ Park this season, leaving director Lee Charnley to guide the club back to the Premier League.
However, with an important summer ahead and Premier League survival the priority, Ashley is likely to play an integral role once again in shaping the future of the football club.
“His influence is powerful, a man whose mood swings infiltrate the fabric,” Caulkin said of Ashley in the Times.
“The priority must be face-to-face talks between Benítez and Ashley.
“As ever, Ashley is the wild card.”
In other Newcastle news, an England striker is Newcastle’s most likely summer signing, according to Sky Sports.