Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is already turning his attention towards establishing Newcastle as permanent members of the Barclays Premier League’s top six.
A 2-0 home defeat by leaders Manchester City yesterday dealt a blow to the Magpies’ hopes of Champions League qualification, but as things stand, they could end the campaign anywhere between sixth and third with one game still to play.
Whatever happens next weekend, when only victory at Everton will give Pardew’s men any hope of a top-four finish, they have enjoyed a remarkable season having managed 12th place 12 months ago following their return to the top flight.
Even sixth place could hardly be regarded as anything other than a resounding success, but the manager will spend the summer attempting to ensure it is not a flash in the pan.
He said: “Our fans are realistic, they know we have come a long, long way this year. The task now is to stay there.
“The fabric of this club, the history, the tradition it has, it should be at the top of the Premier League every year.
“That’s the job in hand for me now, to make sure these players come back and put in the same dedication they have this year because they have earned big reputations now and now they need to fulfil them.
“Our fans have been absolutely brilliant, make no mistake. There’s no way we would be in this position if it wasn’t for them.
“We would be seventh, eighth, maybe. They make a big, big difference.
“We need them back next year and we need to give them something to come back for.”
A crowd of 52,389 packed into St James’ Park to witness what they hoped would be the crowning glory in a season which has defied expectation from the off.
Ultimately, Newcastle were to succumb to two goals from Yaya Toure, whose promotion to an out-and-out attacking role with 28 minutes remaining was the turning point in an entertaining contest.
He finally beat Tim Krul from 25 yards with 20 minutes remaining and, with the Magpies going for broke as time ran down, cemented the win with a second a minute from time.
But on a day when the club unveiled a new statue of former manager Sir Bobby Robson, the home fans stayed behind to salute the efforts of Pardew and his players as they marked the end of their home campaign with a lap of appreciation.
Pardew said: “There’s a lot of criticism about the Premier League, but I thought the conduct of the players on the pitch, the two staffs, was exemplary.
“They conducted themselves in a great manner, we applauded them off, quite rightly, and the whole day was a great advert for the Premier League.
“The best team won – and I don’t like to say that because my team wasn’t the best team – but I thought it was a good day.”
If Pardew has been delighted with his players, they too recognise his input to what they hope will be a watershed season for the club.
French midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, whose form in recent weeks has been a key factor in Newcastle’s late surge, was quick to pay tribute to the 50-year-old.
He told NUFC TV: “He has lots of experience as a coach and he has brought that to Newcastle as a team.
“Where Newcastle are today is because of him, partly.”
Ben Arfa was understandably disappointed with the result, but quickly turned his attention to next weekend’s events at Goodison Park.
He said: “It’s a disappointment. We could have drawn, we could even have won - but I hope to win the next match.
“It was an absolutely great atmosphere and it was a shame we couldn’t win to share it with everybody.”
Ben Arfa, of course, was used sparingly during the first half of the season after recovering from long-term injury – he suffered a double leg fracture in a challenge by City’s Nigel de Jong in October 2010 – but has ended the campaign fit, in form and hoping for a call-up for France’s Euro 2012 finals campaign.
He said: “I have got my fingers crossed that I will be playing for the French team.”