It has become pretty much impossible to write a monthly article about Newcastle United recently. Usually the fluctuations last at least a month or two – a run of good form or bad results – and it is easy to gauge the current mood and direction of the team.
This season though, the inconsistency has gone into overdrive; the swings in performance coming in the space of seven days, sometimes in the space of a half-time team talk. Inconsistency is nothing new to us, but the highs and lows this season have been hard to keep track of.
I wanted to wait until after the West Ham game before writing this, fully expecting us to get beat and at least have a pretty simple summary to write – ‘despite a rousing rescue of a point against Man U, a month full of the same old shi*e’.
But instead we built on a decent midweek performance by playing some genuinely quality attacking football. Of course we managed to make it harder for ourselves than we should have, but on another day we could have been 4-0 up at half time and already out of sight, before Mbemba gave the ball to Jelavic at the start of the second period.
Ultimately, the reason we sit just inside the relegation zone midway through January is our inability to string a few wins together. Often the blame for sporadic fortunes lies with the management team, it may still do, but in their defence they have got us playing some decent football at times, that has already caused damage to some of the top teams in the league.
I’ve been fooled by several false dawns already this season, and many before that, so I’ll refrain this time from getting too giddy, but I still maintain that we’ve scored some nice looking goals this season.
We very rarely score a scrappy goal (not enough perhaps), so when they do come, they are often the result of a dynamic and exciting team move. As a sucker for swashbuckle, I can only see this as a positive sign and long may it continue.
We still defend like a bad pub team on a regular basis and gift as many goals through stupid mistakes as we create at the other end. Perhaps we are a first choice keeper and a top rate centre back and left full back away from looking remotely solid at the back, but at the risk of falling into the trap of thinking a new signing is actually any good, Jonjo Shelvey may have solved a few of the reasons we don’t have many points so far.
What Shelvey has already proven, which most of the rest of the squad have yet to do, is that he has the skill and vision to spot, and then execute, a pass.
We always seem to struggle against sides that don’t allow us to counter attack, mainly because we haven’t had a bridge in midfield to turn defence into attack. Now we have someone who can apparently do that, the talent in the team looks awoken from the frustration of playing in a team that wouldn’t be able to find their runs on the off chance they had seen them.
It is also nice to see the recruitment policy relaxed enough to allow us to sign a young, talented British player with the added benefit of having experience in the Premiership, and the strength and know-how to cope with the English game.
It has been a long time since we had a homegrown player that has ever seriously been mooted as an international prospect, and if there is nobody there to show the foreign players how to win games in this country, maybe it should be no surprise when they don’t do it every week. Perhaps Shelvey’s biggest contribution will be to project some much needed leadership and resilience onto the pitch.
Knowing us though, I’ll be eating my words this time next month; the Swansea fans will have been right and Shelvey will be another flash in the pan, while successfully alienating himself from the rest of the squad.
It is also quite likely that our form will continue to stutter, just as it has done so far, all the way into a serious relegation fight.
Despite being aware of the inevitability of all that, the recent addition of a backbone to the team, and a seemingly concerted effort to capture Andros Townsend, I can’t help desperately wanting to believe that things are finally on the up.
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