Eddie Howe praised Newcastle as they earned a 0-0 draw against relegation-threatened Leicester on Monday to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.
With fifth-placed Liverpool and Aston Villa drawing on Saturday, Newcastle only needed one point from their final two games to guarantee a Champions League spot.
At a joyous St James’ Park, Howe’s third-placed team hit their goal on the first try. After the final whistle, Howe and his men began a protracted lap of honor as they soaked up the applause from the Toon Army.
“It’s a big relief actually, an amazing night. You always hope and you have to dream. But we didn’t feel we were ready for the top four,” Howe said.
“After last season’s relegation battle, it was whether we could consolidate and become a better team.
“I have to compliment the whole squad because physically it’s been a big demand. They’ve seen the fruits of their own labour.”
Newcastle’s incredible turnaround from Premier League relegation hopefuls to top four finishers in just 18 months is a testament to Howe’s leadership and the financial strength of the club’s Saudi-backed ownership group.
Although they were defeated by Manchester United in the League Cup, the Magpies also made it to their first domestic final since 1999 this year.
The Magpies will hope they can maintain their transition into trophy contenders now that they are back among Europe’s heavyweights after spending the previous 20 years in Premier League purgatory when Bobby Robson last led Newcastle into the Champions League.
“The lads have been unbelievable for me. I can’t praise them enough. Their attitude, their mentality,” Howe said.
“I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to manage here. We’ve had great success and that’s satisfying.”
Leicester is in danger of losing their top-flight status for the 12th time in their history, just seven years after their legendary Premier League title victory.
Birmingham would return to the Championship for the first time since 2014 if that matched the English record that Birmingham now holds.
The third-from-bottom team under Dean Smith has won just one of its last 15 league contests.
No matter what happens in Leicester’s final game against West Ham, they are two points behind fourth-place Everton and will be eliminated if the Toffees win against Bournemouth.
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