It is always enjoyable experience writing about your team’s fortunes when it’s on a four game winning bounce.
I could be excused for being a little jittery after the opening two game losing skid. It wasn’t so much the losses but there were issues that needed to be sorted, if we were to be considered as top two automatic contenders to go back in the Premier League.
The problems were obvious with no creativity, lack of cutting edge in the final third, mental blocks at key stages – not to mention missing the Big Serb as a target man, to name but a few.
The flow of our attacks were similar to where it was when we ended our Premier League campaign, down the right flank with Townsend replaced by Ritchie. It didn’t require a master tactician scouting our games that all they had to do was block that side of the pitch, allow our dual defensive minded midfielders unproductive possession, then target Dummett at key moments.
Thankfully the turnaround has been swift and clinical, something which you would associate as a hallmark of a well drilled Rafa Benitez side along with a pleasant surprise or two.
I have previously vouched for the inclusion of Jonjo Shelvey back into the starting XI. Obviously he didn’t do much to justify his reinstatement but even in the limited minutes he played, you could see a proper forward thinking midfielder making an effort to link higher up the pitch with the wingers and number 10. You need the sort of player who sees a pass and is quicker executing it before the defence anticipates it.
I join fellow supporters in resting my case that Anita and Colback will never be that type of attacking player going forward. You would get a lot of ball possession at the most but nothing else other than which would be a recipe for disaster against high octane ball pressing teams, while Championship teams would be happy to sit back and nick a goal on the counter or set-pieces, which was the case in the first two games.
It was good to see Shelvey shine against Brighton, when in confidence he seems a different player and one of the best in the business. The ball moves faster, he reads the game well, gets the ball to the attack-minded players in the right areas and has a goal in him. That free-kick was worth the ticket price.
Credit to Rafa for putting him in a position to succeed by pushing him higher up the pitch. Shelvey has been found out defensively when lying deep and guilty on occasions for looking for the Hollywood pass. On the flipside you look back at the Brighton game, his tackling improved substantially after gaining confidence with his offensive game. At the end it’s more of a mental aspect of his game that Shelvey needs to work on which is sort of up and down.
Rafa benitez will need to have Shelvey focused and patient. He has to be mentally stronger and accepting that there will be days when it’s not necessarily going all good for him but then he has to muster the discipline to grind it out. I hope the Brighton game is the start of good things for him and not a false dawn.
If Rafa was able to do a tactical switch with Jonjo Shelvey, a lot of credit has to go to Hayden’s presence in the team. I am excited to see how good this boy can be in the future. Covers his area well, protects the back four, calm on the ball with a nice passing range. More so, his tackling has been crucial and not conceding free-kicks in dangerous areas like Colback and Tiote do. He can only get better and be of the best in the league at his position if he stays grounded and continues to work on his game, which I am sure of will happen. He has one of the best coaches to achieve those goals.
I must admit I got it wrong with Dwight Gayle.
What a revelation he has been so far. He didn’t pull up any trees during his time with Palace in the Premier League, probably due to the way they set up and also playing under a Coach called Pardew. However, he is showing good traits and I enjoyed his goal against Bristol. We were missing that quick turn and blistering pace with Cisse and Mitro playing as the lone forwards last season, with the exception of Wijnaldum making those runs.
The ability to speed off, control the ball on the run and take a first timer is going to be valuable, especially when you have teams shutting up shop and not giving you many opportunities. Add to that a Cracker Jack free kick (v Reading), this guy is going to be a handful for most defences and a key contributor to our needs for goals.
Another key factor during this run has been the presence of Diame. He is turning out to be a good number 10 who with his height and physique can also function as a target man, besides offering extra protective presence in set-pieces. He has come as advertised. The power and ball control has been on display when he has helped his defence taking the ball out of tight angles and pushing it further up the pitch. The obvious example being the assist to Gayle’s goal at Bristol, collecting the ball from the back and setting off on a run and then pinpoint pass. There will be goals to come from his boots I am sure.
A special mention for Gouffran and you can’t fault him for being handed a 5 year contract, he isn’t a top level talent that will earn a final pay day. This is something the recruitment team should look at when adjudging the length of contracts to be offered to new recruits. Yoan Gouffran has arrived to the party a little late but been important to our turnaround. He was an honest worker while playing as a second forward and on the left wing during a fantastic winning streak in 2013-14 when he scored in 5 consecutive games, if memory serves me right. Would have loved to have seen that 30 yard effort against Brighton bounce inside the goal.
Lascelles appeared a lot more assured and took his dropping (v Reading) in the right way. His goal was well taken against Brighton and at 22, he can improve further, such is his potential. A guy for his body and size moves like an American Football wide receiver. He can be effective if he uses his physique to his advantage, I like to see him close down on opposing players more, narrow down shooting angles and spaces. He could learn a lot watching tapes of John Terry.
And it’s nice to see one of the best and complete transfer windows, that we have had in years. Rafa had to address a crucial issue at the center-back department as we never had any quality back up. The slow and inept were quietly ushered out. Thankfully they are busy scoring own goals someplace else.
He has improved the dressing room filling them with good strong characters and experienced head, with thankfully the under 25 rule is no longer in existence. Lascelles might be the Captain but there are enough leaders on the pitch. Guys like Ritchie, Diame, Hanley immediately stand out. There is overall depth in the squad to deal with any injuries or African Cup commitments.
Going From a precarious position where we seemed clueless where the next attacking move was going to come from, it is suddenly is looking a lot better with Shelvey beginning to run the midfield, Ritchie on the Right and the exciting addition of Laazar to the left with Diame/Gayle/Mitro looking to latch on to every pass and cross.
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