It all started so brightly for Newcastle United this season, beating West Ham 2-0 at the London Stadium with goals from debutants Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick.
Dipping into the transfer market for established Premier League contributors over the summer, the Magpies had the look of a solid midtable side.
But a string of uninspiring performances over the middle third of the season left Newcastle mired in a relegation battle.
Wilson, once of Tamworth FC of course, was the marquee signing of that summer spending, a veteran presence who scored 41 Premier League goals over Bournemouth’s five top-flight seasons.
Newcastle were in dire need of goalscorers after a lacklustre 2019/20 campaign that saw them score the fourth-fewest goals in the division despite their 13th-placed finish.
The massive £40 million outlay for star striker Joelinton, meanwhile, fell flat as the Brazilian contributed only two goals in 38 performances.
Newcastle fans will be pleased with the return from Wilson, then, who had 10 league goals before his season was derailed by a hamstring injury in February.
In Wilson’s absence, Newcastle’s form has plummeted, going winless for most of February and all of March after he limped off early in their match against Southampton.
That culminated with a toothless display in a 3-0 defeat to relegation rivals Brighton that put them in serious danger near the relegation zone.
The abject form without Wilson, coupled with a resurgence from Fulham below them, saw Newcastle fancied as 8/11 favourites in the Premier League betting markets to go down.
Newcastle have been relegated twice in this century, of course – stints in the Championship in 2009/10 and 2016/17 were one-season-only affairs as the Magpies won the league to secure promotion on both occasions.
But relegation this season would have been the most devastating for two reasons – first, that Newcastle were fancied to be a steady outfit in midtable and maybe even challenge for European football depending on results late in the season.
Second, the standard of football this season has been far below what fans expected.
Numerous times this season Steve Bruce’s side have looked blunt going forward, and they had a worse defensive record than any team barring the bottom two sides, West Brom and Sheffield United.
To avoid joining those teams in the Championship next season, Newcastle found enough resolve in the Premier League run-in.
Steve Bruce will need to inspire more from summer additions Hendrick and Ryan Fraser, who were brought in to strengthen Newcastle’s forward threat alongside a resurgent Miguel Almiron, who has contributed five goals from midfield.
Lambs fans would surely love Wilson to return though.