Jonjo Shelvey’s arrival earlier this week was met with widespread approval, if not slightly tempered by question marks over his attitude and temperament.
With his debut today, Steve McClaren eschewing his usual caution to throw the 23 year old straight into the mix, we were treated to the sight of exactly what we’ve purchased, and the view was good.
Shelvey began the game much as the team did; with an urgency and incisiveness that has been missing for too many months in the North East. His pass for Gini Wijnaldum to set up Ayoze Perez’s sublime finish was at once direct and precise. His later long range pass to allow Daryl Janmaat to assist top scoring Gini, was simply from a world whose inhabitants haven’t graced the green of St James Park for far too long.
Later in the half, the referee treated Jonjo to a pleasant conflab with Enner Valencia and their respective captains, after the midfielder spikily stepped into the ground he was already occupying, and firmly flattened the on-rushing Ecuadorian.
Petulant and prospectively dangerous in front of the penalty area and with the likes of Payet and Cresswell swelling the Hammers ranks? Undoubtedly. Some might retort that this, however, is exactly the sort of biting sawtoothed swagger that has been sorely missing in the Toon ranks, since the departure of the Nolan and Barton brains trust.
More than this, however, was the continuous conducting Shelvey took upon himself, the nonchalant following of his shorter passes, and the way he constantly found space in the centre of the pitch. He always seemed available, always ready to slow the pace of the play, or prod it sharply back into life.
His very presence in that centre circle freed both Gini and Moussa Sissoko from the travails of having to drop deep searching for the ball, Colback from being the only one making himself available, Colo and Mbemba from having no-one ahead of them when stepping out of defence.
The quest for a striker to stick away some of the many chances we create – and the more we will create with Shelvey now in the team – remains the main irritant of this transfer window, never more so than on the day that long-term target Charlie Austin moved to Southampton for the relatively risk-free sum of £4m. Then evidenced again with Aleksander Mitrović’s weak shot after cutting in well when put through by his new team mate in the second half.
Shelvey’s introduction to the team, however, while not a solution to that specific and potentially unresolvable issue with Cisse now out for less time than initially expected, and ‘like a new signing’ Emmanuel Rivière coming back to fitness, is certainly a major development for the team.
The way he linked with Mitro on several occasions, with the big Serb pulling off defenders, moving wide and cutting in, and generally appearing more mobile, certainly holds promise and indicates a way of playing emerging that hasn’t been available to the team until now. Could Shelvey then be the catalyst to get more out of our main centre-forward signing of the summer?
Maybe. Maybe he will be the midfield general we’ve been crying out for. Maybe his vision and presence will release the undoubted attacking talents the team holds. Maybe we’ll see a Toon player in the England shirt again and maybe Shelvey will finally find a home for his undoubted talents.
Or maybe he’ll implode and be none of these things and allow the worse aspects of the Shelvey we’ve seen so far in his career, to bubble back to the surface. Who knows what this Shelvey flavoured Newcastle future will hold?
One thing is for certain, after being instrumental in this vital win against in-form West Ham, Shelvey has made an immediate impact and helped turn a team that looked so close so often this season, into something different, more dynamic and balanced and, we can but hope, one that is on the rise.
Steve McClaren may just have found the key to unlock his team, but at the very least, tonight, the faithful are most definitely walking in a Jonjo wonderland!
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