With Dwight Gayle, Newcastle United have cracked a simple formula for success.
With a striker quicker than any defender, they can play balls behind the defensive line and create great chances throughout the game.
Pace is the key to scoring goals at any level of football.
A few years ago I used to watch Bristol Rovers in the Conference. Despite having better players than any of their opponents they struggled to get the ball in the net. That is until they started using their midfield to ping through balls to their forward, Matty Taylor.
At first the number 10 couldn’t take his chances and his shooting went everywhere except the net. However, the fact that this ‘quarterback’ tactic created at least three good chances a game, he finally started to make the most of them.
That year (2014/15) Rovers got promoted and the season after too. Matty Taylor has become one of the most consistent scorers in the football league and is still producing the goods in League One.
(Deadline day has brought claims that Bristol City are set to activate a £300,000 clause to buy Taylor, which if successful would make him first player in 30 years to move between the two clubs.
He has started 105 league matches in these past two and a half years and scored 63 goals – his record is 2014/15 National League 20 goals, 2015/16 League Two 27 goals, 2016/17 League One 16 goals)
Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey have had the same relationship for Newcastle this season. Our top scorer doesn’t have the clinical finishing of a Shearer or Van Nistelrooy, or even Andy Carroll the last time we were in the Championship.
Nevertheless, by having so many clear opportunities per fixture, the fact that he scores from a third of them still means he can grab on average at least one goal every game.
Just because the quality of defending generally improves in the top division doesn’t mean this can’t continue after promotion. With half as many chances, the raw pace at Gayle’s disposal would still allow him around 10 goals a year at least.
Troy Deeney is a classic case of this potential for a promoted side. Last season he added 13 goals to Watford’s total.
It is perhaps more mystifying that successive Newcastle managers have failed to adopt the idea of pace both up front and on the wings. Obafemi Martins seems to be the last erratic yet lightning quick striker for the Mags. His speed alone seemed to terrify Tottenham in particular. Martins pretty much ended Michael Dawson’s England career before it had even begun.
For all the sophistication that Rafa has brought the club, arguably his most important change is the return of this elementary approach.
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