Along with Andros Townsend, Jamaal Lascelles has been the other big star of the recent Newcastle revival.
Whereas Townsend was the big money signing in January who was expected to provide the creativity and goals to save United, Lascelles was the forgotten squad player who Newcastle fans had no real expectation of.
However, with his actions on and off the pitch under Rafa Benitez, Lascelles has show qualities that have surprised everybody.
Now he is on the radar of those outside Newcastle, including any number of pundits who have picked him out for praise.
The latest are Danny Murphy and Gary Lineker on Match of The Day after the Crystal Palace match on Saturday night.
They made Lascelles the man of the match despite Townsend and Darlow’s contributions at either end.
With only three starts previously, Lascelles has started six of eight games with only one defeat under Rafa Benitez and this led to Danny Murphy exclaiming ‘Why the hell wasn’t he playing earlier?’
Steve McClaren consistently picked the likes of Taylor and Coloccini ahead of Lascelles and if you look at the three starts the former Forest defender had, no wonder he found it hard to cope thanks to those around him.
In his first start of the season at Watford, Lascelles was part of an ill-fated attempt to play three/five at the back, playing alongside Coloccini and Mbemba they lost 2-1.
Then in his other two games under McClaren, the 22 year old was paired with Steven Taylor against both Stoke and Bournemouth, given little help by his more experienced partner.
Interestingly, I fear that Rafa Benitez also made a major blunder…
Rafa has indeed picked Jamaal Lascelles in six of the eight games he has managed and Newcastle have only lost one of those (Lascelles played alongside Taylor v the Foxes), this was Rafa’s first game when Champions elect Leicester scored with their only shot on target.
Where the Benitez blunder could have been, is when after the 1-1 draw with Sunderland, the manager decided to go with experience and dropped a number of younger players including Lascelles for the vital game at Norwich.
Steven Taylor replaced Lascelles and started against the Canaries and Southampton, United conceding three in both and picking up no points.
In that Southampton match of course, Taylor was especially terrible and gifted the first goal, Lascelles replaced him at half-time but United were alreadt two down and the game lost.
Considering how Newcastle have fared with Mbemba and Lascelles together (two wins and three draws in the five matches), is it fair to say that Newcastle could well have picked up points in those Norwich and Southampton matches if Rafa had stuck with Lascelles not Taylor?
Gary Lineker on Saturday’s Match of The Day:
“Star man of the game, we have picked out Jamaal Lascelles.
“He only had three starts under Steve McClaren but he has played six out of seven starts under Rafa Benitez?”
“He (Jamaal Lascelles) has only lost one of those six games.
“I hadn’t seen too much of him and I think in the last few weeks he has really come to the fore. Jamaal Lascelles is athletic, he is outspoken as well – which you don’t mind because it shows that he cares, good positional play.
“There is a lot more to his game than that. The best tackle of the match (at 0-0 tackles Wickham in the box from side/behind), spots the danger and his speed gets him back and the timing…he goes to ground and if you don’t get the ball you are in trouble.
“His distribution – I always like to see a defender who is willing to play it out.
“He showed leadership qualities as well: pointing at people, shouting at them and organising.
“Second half Newcastle didn’t have as much defending to do but he showed glimpses of his strength, his pace and his calmness.
“The big question for me is…’Why the hell wasn’t he playing earlier?’ – because he does looks a really terrific player.”