For Newcastle, the guarantee of at least six matches in the gilded and glitzy surrounds of the Champions League. And Leicester, the lingering threat of 46 amid the muck and nettles of the Championship.
Oh how different those eventualities are – executive airline travel versus a National Express motorway slog. But these are clubs heading in opposite directions. To think, when Leicester were winning the Premier League in 2016, Newcastle were being relegated.
Here, though, was a result that perhaps suited both teams. Needing only a point to secure a top-four finish, Newcastle would have preferred to sign off with a victory at St James’ Park, especially with third position still up for grabs. But their supporters did not care for the outcome on 90 minutes, as they chorused about trips to Italy and beyond. Leicester, by contrast, are still hoping to avoid weekends in Swansea.
To that end, a gusty draw had some merit. It means, should they beat West Ham at home on Sunday, Everton must also win against Bournemouth to stay up at Leicester’s expense. The odds, then, remain against Dean Smith and his players, but they’re not nearly as long as they would have been had they lost this. It promises to be a nervy finale.
Not so for Newcastle. They will journey to Chelsea knowing the job is done. It is an incredible achievement, given Eddie Howe inherited a team 19th in the Premier League only 19 months ago. And it was his name they were singing throughout the second half as their European dream drew ever nearer.
A banner in the stands read – ‘Hard work pays off. Dreams come true. Bad times don’t last but legends do’. Howe has now elevated himself into the same conversation as the likes of Sir Bobby Robson, the manager who last took the club into the Champions League 20 years ago. And this, you feel, is only just the beginning.
Twenty minutes before kick-off, a supporter at the base of the steps leading into the Milburn Stand entrance, where thousands shuffle past en route to the turnstiles, played the Champions League theme on a speaker, loud enough for the masses to hum along. The stadium’s main sound system will be playing that music two minutes before the off next season.
They will no doubt have to play better than this then, but Leicester also deserve credit for emerging with a result that could yet prove invaluable.
Smith’s team-sheet read as much like a betting slip – to drop James Maddison and Harvey Barnes was certainly a gamble. There were two schools of thought as to why.
One being that to throw his cards in the air was better than holding on to a losing hand. The other, more sinister, was that players such as Maddison and Barnes may have something to gain from relegation. That is not to question their professionalism, but an unavoidable truth of a transfer being made easier in the event of going down. Given Newcastle retain an interest in both players, perhaps that was part of the manager’s thinking.
In purely tactical terms, it looked like Smith was playing for a point, loading his defence with five men. After 45 minutes, they had kept a first-half clean sheet for the first time in 10 matches. They did not score. In fact, they did not have a shot, on or off target. Smith, though, would have been happy. He would have been even happier had Bruno Guimaraes been sent off in the ninth minute.
Newcastle would argue, with some justification, that VAR has not been kind to them this season. Well, here was a belated apology from the team at Stockley Park.
Guimaraes landed his studs on the knee of Boubakary Soumare, evoking memories of Paul Gascoigne on Garry Parker in the opening minutes of the 1991 FA Cup Final, an over-hyped star player. Like Gascoigne, Guimaraes should have seen red.
‘That’s a f***ing bad challenge, by the way’ moaned Smith to the fourth official. He had understated it. But so, too, had the VAR officials, who failed to advise, at the very least, a pitchside review. There was a collective exhale inside St James’ when play restarted – they knew the Brazilian had got away with one. But come half-time, Leicester had also ridden their luck.
Newcastle’s shot count had tipped double figures and two of them – a Miguel Almiron volley and Callum Wilson poke – had hit the post. There was also a Wilson header cleared from the line by Wilfred Ndidi. The finishing, though, was generally poor from the home side, who had seen 82 per cent of the ball.
It was not until the 59th minute that Daniel Iversen had a save to make, and some stop it was too, fisting Alexander’s Isak top-corner-bound steer over the crossbar.
By this point Maddison was on and soon Barnes and Patson Daka were joining him. Smith had kept the door closed for an hour, now he was loosening the hinges.
With the extra attacking personnel – and ambition – Leicester immediately won their first corner. But still Nick Pope, in the Newcastle goal, remained a spectator.
Iversen was too when Kieran Trippier’s corner was headed beyond his grasp by defender Wout Faes and, at the far post, Guimaraes somehow contrived to nod against the post from barely a yard out.
It was that sort of night for Newcastle, not that it really mattered