Shola Power To Turn On Newcastle This Winter
In the simplest terms, by the most convenient definitions, when Shola Ameobi plays for Newcastle United the team perform better.
Massive clubs are defeated, European places clinched, relegations staved off, local rivals beaten – Middlesbrough and Sunderland are among his favourite opponents – and huge games won.
Shola played and scored in our last away win in Europe at Metalist, scored the winning goal that saved Xmas and won us as valuable a 3pts versus QPR as we got last season, plus scored the opener when we ended Bordeaux’s 17-match unbeaten record 3-0.
A season earlier he played with Demba Ba when we beat Manchester United 3-0, destroying Phil Jones’ top flight reputation and kept Newcastle’s unbeaten start to the season going against Spurs.
Crucials strikes against Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool and Leeds when they were a force, litter his goal-scoring CV.
Famously, he scored our only goal against Barcelona in The Nou Camp and also our consolation in The Millennium Stadium against Manchester United.
Yet instead of being one of the most celebrated target men the club has ever had and luckily still has on its books (he’s going to The World Cup with Nigeria: they know) he is still the target of abuse.
Alan Pardew may have finally realised Shola’s power and threat, as since we shifted to 4-4-2 and more direct football against Manchester City, we’ve looked twice the team. Mark Douglas referred to the ‘Rope-a-dope’ strategy adopted by Pardew on Saturday and it was super heavyweight Ameobi who did as much to wear down John Terry and the Chelsea defence in the first hour before the fresh legs came on.
We must start him against Spurs. Think of how weak we were up front away to both Manchester City with Cisse leading the line, or Remy through the middle against Everton. Even together, Remy and Cisse don’t hold the ball up and are best when attacking and facing goal, not gaining a foothold on enemy territory. Gouffran may as well not have been playing away to Morecambe when Shola duly replaced him and scored our first goal of the season and inspired the first win.
What Shola has is presence, he’s a man mountain.
Defenders don’t like playing against him as he competes in the air for everything and physically works his man through sheer size and strength which is particular important in winter when conditions get harsher and some players don’t fancy it.
Jose’s flair players got lost in the mud, rain and wind on Saturday (like they disappeared last winter after threatening to run away with the title early on) yet Shola was getting stronger as the game went on before Cisse replaced him.
Most Premier League goals – 80% – are scored from shots inside the box and it takes 7 shots per 1 goal to score on average inside compared to 1 goal in 25 shots from outside the box. Statistically, only Chelsea, Man U and Spurs have created as many ‘chances’ as Newcastle yet only 39% of our goals come from inside the area.
Bailey’s advice for Newcastle and Pardew is to ‘get it in the mixer’ and Shola is the perfect man to capitalize from such an approach, as his intelligent use of the ball leads to shots and chances.
Of course, Shola needs good players around him and the better they are, the more they will profit from the service he provides.
He enjoyed a great partnership with the club’s top goalscorer Alan Shearer whenever they combined. Think who set up Shearer for both his record-breaking goal against Portsmouth and Wor Al’s best ever goal – the stunning 35-yard volley against Everton. A great reader of the game, he knew Shola would thread the pass and win the header, respectively.
Demba Ba enjoyed a great partnership with Shola when they were in tandem, regularly feeing off him. The Man U volley stands out, yet also the opener in the 2-1 win against West Brom a year ago.
Newcastle’s current players aren’t quite on the same wavelength – yet.
There were a few times Shola won the aerial battle with Terry on Saturday, or Micah Richards in the League Cup, and diverted the ball for Sissoko to run onto or Cisse to convert, yet they wasn’t alive to the opportunities. The header to Remy from Cabaye’s cross just before his substitution was on a plate and should have been converted, while his powerful run before squaring it to Remy was another chance Shola made, though he probably should have selfishly rattled in a left-foot belter like the equaliser vs Tottenham two seasons ago.
In time, his and Remy’s partnership can develop like Shola and Ba’s did, yet it is so important the ball sticks in the opponent’s half, and doesn’t come straight back – especially away from home.
We saw against Sunderland the dangers of a weak attack presence-wise. The derby is the one game when he’s usually given a bit of grace by supporters – and managers as well – and he normally responds with a winning goal or equaliser if given enough time.
No one is advocating long-ball, yet the right use of Cabaye diagonals and crosses into the box will bear fruit whenever Shola plays.
Richard Wiseman’s book, ‘Did You Spot The Gorilla?’ is about psychological blind spots which make us miss the obvious in front of our faces and Shola’s qualities and contribution go largely undetected.
Luckily, Sir Bobby Robson, the man who gave him his debut and one of his greatest supporters, didn’t miss them and how Newcastle have benefitted over the years.
If we have faith in him and play him regularly, we might see more of what many people consider the greatest Newcastle manager in history saw in him.
23 Magical Shola Moments:
1. 2013/4 – Morecambe 2-0 – League Cup, Shola scores our first goal of the season in our first win.
2. 2012/3 – A Metalist 1-0 – Shola pen records one of our only 3 away wins. (His header was chased down by Sissoko who was fouled for pen)
3. 2012/3 – Bordeaux – 3-0 – Shola opener ends their unbeaten run.
4. May 2012 – A Chelsea 2-0 – Ameobi chests it down and Cisse wonder volley for Goal of the Season
5. 2011/2 – Manchester United – 3-0 – Set up Ba’s first and destroyed Phil Jones’ reputation giving him a torrid time.
6. 2011/2 – Spurs 2-2 – Last minute Shola equaliser.
7. 2011 – Wolves 4-1 – Masked Shola sets up Nolan’s 1st and scores 2nd to allay any relegation worries.
8. 2010/11 – Sunderland 5-1 – Shola brace in the derby of derbies.
9. 2010 – A Chelsea 4-3 League Cup – Shola Brace including the last-minute winner.
10. 2009/10 – Reading 3-0 – Shola hat-trick – Kicked off Newcastle’s Championship-winning season in style.
11. 2008/09 – Sunderland 1-1 – Shola pen equaliser
12. 2008 – Man City 2-2 – Ends goal drought when Joe Kinnear restores him to the side.
13. 2006 – West Brom 3-0 – Shola brace to set up qualification for Europe
14. 2006 – Portsmouth 2-0 – Cheeky Ameobi back-heel to Shearer for his 201st goal.
15. 2005 – Sunderland 3-2 – Shola brace slays the enemy again.
16. 2005 – FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United 1-4 – Shola scores a consolation.
17. 2004 – Liverpool 1-1 – Shola scores at Anfield to guarantee a UEFA Cup place.
18. 2004 – Chelsea 2-1 – Shola equaliser sets up win and starts a habit of scoring vs Chelsea.
19. 2003 – A Middlesbrough 1-0 Shola winner – 1 of 4 career goals against our other local rivals.
20. 2002/03 – A Champions League 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen – Shola brace gives Sir Bobby Robson a happy 70th birthday
21. 2002 – Everton 2-1 – Sets up Shearer for THAT phenomenal volley.
22. 2002 – A Champions League – Barcelona 1-3 – Shola creates his 100% scoring record in The Nou Camp with a smart finish.
23. Jan 2001 – Coventry 3-0 – Shola dream begins with his first for the club.
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