It was a real team effort when Newcastle United eased to promotion and put the icing on the cake when winning the second tier title on the final day.

However, there were individuals who stood out above the rest.

At the back, Ciaran Clark was Newcastle’s stand out player, whilst Jamaal Lascelles saw his form tail off in the second half of the season, only to then reveal he’d played through the pain barrier and put off an operation until promotion was secured.

Of the front six, there was little doubt who the star trio were.

Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey head and shoulders above the rest.

Maybe no surprise as all three had played in the Premier League and indeed were bought from Premier League teams.

If leaving Mitrovic out of the equation (which Rafa Benitez usually did…), those three were also the most expensive in the team.

It would be harsh to blame them for Newcastle’s struggles this season but I think this trio do sum up United’s problems.

Basically they are not good enough to do it in the Premier League, or at least not good enough to do what is being asked of them in the top tier.

Have a look at these statistics as we head towards the point of being two thirds of the way through this Premier League season.

Dwight Gayle

In the Championship he scored 23 goals and got 2 assists, in the Premier League he currently has 3 goals and 1 assist.

Jonjo Shelvey

In the Championship he scored 5 goals and got 8 assists, in the Premier League he currently has 0 goals and 0 assists.

Matt Ritchie

In the Championship he scored 12 goals and got 7 assists, in the Premier League he currently has 0 goals and 5 assists.

For Ritchie, it is almost a carbon copy of what happened at Bournemouth. In their 2014/15 Championship winning season, he scored 15 goals and got 17 assists, then when stepping up to the Premier League he got 4 goals and 6 assists.

I do like Ritchie but if you are honest, he has been really poor in open play. I think almost all of his five assists have been from set-pieces, which is still great, but that can’t be the sum total of what you contribute going forward.

Maybe yesterday against Swansea summed it up, as both Shelvey and Ritchie were desperate to take all the corners and free-kicks, as that is what they are most capable of doing.

Bottom line is that all three of them, including Dwight Gayle aren’t good enough, as I said above. Though we do have to put it in context, in terms of what has been expected of them this campaign.

We all know Rafa was let down in the summer transfer window but so were the players who had won promotion.

I think Shelvey, Gayle and Ritchie had the right, along with the fans, to expect better quality to be bought in to support them, instead we had Rafa having to scratch around to fill gaps with players no better than the average in the existing squad.

If Newcastle had added three better quality players in the front six, then Gayle, Shelvey and Ritchie would be playing supporting roles, rather than having been expected to carry others.

The players who are playing alongside them are ones who struggled to stand out in the Championship.

Christian Atsu (only 15 Championship starts) struggled to get a game ahead of the very average Gouffran.

Ayoze Perez and Mohamed Diame constantly swapped in the second striker/extra midfielder role, as neither convinced.

Isaac Hayden did ok but did share the starts with Jack Colback.

Then instead of a star striker being brought in, we have a Stoke reserve £5m bargain in Joselu. Great attitude and all that but hardly lifting the quality.

Simple fact is that players play better with better players alongside them, if they have weaker ones alongside who aren’t good enough for that level, it drags them down.

Shelvey, Gayle and Ritchie are too good for the Championship but in the Premier League they needed better players than them to come in and take the lead. They would become the workers/support act, rather than the stars.

Mikel Merino has got a lot of promise but he is only 21, has had injury problems, and this is his first full season in a top flight. He needs help/support, rather than any expectation he can play the main role.

We of course have the same issues at the back but in Jamaal Lascelles we have a player who has grown with the responsibility and tougher task of the Premier League.

Then alongside him we have Ciaran Clark who has done ok, little surprise maybe as along with Lascelles’ support/influence, Clark is also Newcastle’s most experienced Premier League player.

However, the likes of Dummett, Manquillo, Lejeune aren’t good enough to be first choice, whilst DeAndre Yedlin is a great competitor and one of Newcastle’s better performers but doesn’t have that star quality either. We also have two goalkeepers who aren’t Premier League number ones.

Of course, like everything else, it all comes back to the same central problem. Mike Ashley and his refusal to back Rafa with the signings he needed.

I reckon another £40m (the profit Rafa made for Ashley in the summer 2016 transfer window) and Benitez could have brought in four players (using the extra £40m to buy better players instead of Manquillo, Atsu, Joselu etc and using the cash invested in them) better than anybody else in our squad, with the possible exception of Jamaal Lascelles.

What it would have meant as well is that then you don’t necessarily have to spend as much the next season, as you already have these better quality players if signings work out.

Like anything else in life, if you buy quality then it tends to give a better performance and doesn’t constantly need replaced.

False economy yet again from Mike Ashley, buying bargains that aren’t really up to the job and that will end up proving more expensive for the club in the long-term.

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  • John Lewis

    Comprehensive analyses, obviously the wage ceiling restricts the quality of player bought.

  • Peter Robson

    Okay, I can accept that Rafa hasn´t had the financial backing to strengthen the team and allow the better players to develop, but in the entire article you´ve done nothing but pick fault with everything and everyone connected with the club/team, that´s merely my assumption because I lost interest about halfway through, it was a bit like listening to one of those neighbours who always know a better way to paint your fence etc.

    Great way to get behind the team !!!

  • Philippines

    For me, Gayle is now the weak link.

  • TheFatController

    Ashley needs to get over the reality that we’re not top half any more.

    When were we ever? When he put the club (publically) up for sale.

    Now he refuses relegation clauses despite it being a valid concern of the one interested buyer, given they are being asked to pay for a PL status club.

    I mention this because you mention the £40m spend – a spend that would have protected his investment (ie taken away any talk of relegation clauses and undoubtedly seen his pocket lined with over £300m)

    Has he learnt from his mistake of not protecting his investment by spending in the summer? Clearly not, unless a £25m goal scorer arrives in time for the Burnley game…

    • Cockneytrev

      We need a 25mil+ striker, but could we attract one? If you were a decent player would you want to come to this shambles?
      Ashley has done to Newcastle what he has done to once decent labels, Slazenger, Dunlop etc tarnished them by his toxic business practices.
      From being a world brand, signing forwards like shearer, Ferdinand, cole, ginola, Owen ( not best signing), we now can’t compete with clubs like Bournemouth, Burnley stoke, wba, Crystal Palace, Swansea Watford in the transfer market,, it’s an absolute disgrace,,
      Last season we bought players to get us promoted, these players were never going to be good enough consolidate our premier status, eveybody with a genuine interest in the club knew this, we needed a net spend of £150 mil on genuine quality proven players,, not bargain basement cast offs,,,

      • Peaky Magpie

        Good point,the agents will be steering their assets in different directions due to our current uncertainty.

      • hetonmag

        Agree with what you say as I have said in previous posts Ashley will never ever sanction a £25m + player because the higher price you pay for a player the more wages he will want and Ashley just won’t go down that line.

        • TheFatController

          Agreed, however I think Ashley is now in a pressured position – he has no buyer willing to pay £300m, and another potential relegation.

          If he bought a striker, paid the club, agent and player going rate, and we stayed up, what happens beyond that moment won’t matter to him as he’ll be selling the club.

          Basically, I’m surprised his attitude isn’t ‘doesn’t matter what buying a top striker means for the wage structure of the club and my operating policy, so long as it gets me the sale and gets me out of there…..’

        • Jezza

          Yes Fat Ashley only pays those kinds of wages to his top executives at S****s D****t.

          • Leicester Mag

            Family and friends

  • Addie

    Gayle definitely but the other two are just lacking form

  • Peaky Magpie

    How much is the “takeover talk” really affecting the players ??? The silence & uncertainty must be ruining their confidence as much as it’s destroying our souls.

    • Leicester Mag

      Agree hardly bloody helps

    • Cockneytrev

      I honestly don’t think there will be a takeover , Ashley has no intention of selling us and never has, I hope I’m wrong and will gladly hold my hands up if it happens,,

      • Peaky Magpie

        100% agree,there’ll be an imminent announcement we’ve heard before “I tried to sell the club but no one met my demands” etc etc etc.Load of bull.

        • Big Al 1967

          And that announcement will come after the transfer window has shut and the season ticket renewal deadline has passed.

          • Peaky Magpie

            Without a doubt then the whole circus will start again in May.

          • Jezza

            So bleeding predictable isn’t it. That scenario has been on the cards ever since the club was supposedly put up for sale in October.

  • Leicester Mag

    This particular chunky leopard is never going to change his spots. While this is good analysis and well articulated any article that ends with if we spend.. becomes as meaningful as a teenage crush on a movie star. If the takeover fails (torn as to whether I should have written when) then every thought/ effort ought to be how lawfully can we as fans hurt his business and it’s image.

  • gallowgate26

    I think Atsu, certainly potential wise, is actually the most likely to be a regular PL player. He has had some fullbacks on toast this season and has the power, pace and ability to take people on and make things happen. Ritchie is a championship player who can do a job in the PL but should not be the only choice, Murphy has to be given a chance there IMO as Ritchie usually just goes backwards in open play and allows the opposition defence time to organise. Ritchie is one of those players who isn’t really good enough but gets away with it because of high effort, like Guitierrez.

    • mentalman

      problem with atsu is as you say he torments full backs but when the full back is struggling there’s nobody telling the players to take advantage of this. Yesterday their full back couldn’t cope and eventually went off injured with a muscle strain/pull probably caused by having to chase atsu as much and then everytime atsu ran at bartley he fouled him so we could have quite easily got him sent off

  • Rob

    If Ashley thinks he can take a relegation balloon payment and that this current squad of players would gain first time promotion easily he’s clearly got mental health problems.

    No investment now and Rafa will go over the summer.

    I dread to think who Ashley would bring in.

    Lascelles and Merino would probably leave and we already know nobody will come in while Ashley is controlling funds.

  • Paul Patterson

    Serious question- Would we have been better off with Anita, Gouffran and Murphy in place of Manquillo, Atsu and Joselu respectively?

    • Clarko

      No, the replacements are better then the players that they replaced, it’s close, but they’re better (Atsu is significantly better than Gouffran). The question should be, would we have been better off not buying Joselu, Manquillo and J. Murphy and using that ~£22m to buy a striker.

      • mentalman

        no because we have few players providing the strikers with good deliveries

        • Clarko

          I disagree, look at the chances against Stoke, we could have been 3-4 nil up at half time, look at the chances against Swansea, the two Gayle headers, the Perez 1 on 1 chance, the Dummett near post chance. You can make the same argument for the Everton game, the Bournemouth game, the Arsenal game and so on. We create chances, we do not score those chances.

          • gallowgate26

            Agree, see my comment above r.e. loan striker.

          • Clarko

            Hook, line and sinker….

          • mentalman

            a lot of those chances you talk about are created by the strikers themselves I can’t remember the last game where the wide players put a lot of decent quality of balls into the box

            Next time crystal palace are on tv watch them, hodgson has quite obviously told his wide players when they have the ball in wide positions cut it back to the penalty spot and the attacking players know its going to go to the penalty spot and ensure there is someone there, our wide players could do with starting to do something like this

          • TheFatController

            Can I just ask, did you go to the game yesterday, see any highlights, or read Ian wright’s comments from MOTD?

            Just not sure what you constitute as being a good ball into the box given Gayle’s two headers, Dummett’s snapshot or Perez’s chance all in the first half ?

          • mentalman

            I watched the full match thanks for asking. One of gayles headers was set up by perez playing as a striker. gayles second header was a good ball by dummett, so I’ll give you that one. Dummett’s shot followed an ok cross so I’ll be generous and count that one.

            As for perez’ shot it was a hopeful ball over the top by ritchie in a central position

            How many decent crosses so far this season have manquillo dummett yedlin and ritchie put into the box

          • Clarko

            You’re making stuff up, Matt Ritchie has 5 assists (from crosses), do you not remember the Perez goal against Stoke? The one that Murphy assisted? Again, yesterday in the Swansea game, the two Gayle headers, created from crosses, one from Dummett and one from Perez. The West Ham game, Diame’s goal was provided by Atsu, a cross along the box. The Stoke game, all the chances in the first half came from the wide players.

            I think you need to stop watching Palace and start watching Newcastle a bit more.

          • mentalman

            not sure you can technically count set pieces as crosses

            you can’t paper over a failing throughout the season by talking about a couple of recent games.

            I watch lots of football, not just Newcastle or the premier league, you should try it you might understand the game better

          • Clarko

            You don’t know what you’re talking about, you have just said that in the Swansea game the chances were “created by the strikers themselves”, they weren’t, you stated that you “can’t remember the last game where the wide players put a lot of decent quality of balls into the box”, it was Swansea, it happened yesterday, you want to know when it happened before that? Stoke the league game before the Swansea game and so on.

            Set pieces do count as crosses, when the set pieces are crossed. Delusional.

      • Paul Patterson

        I still think Gouffran could have done a job for a bit. He performed admirably when we were last in the Premier League, but I agree we should be aiming higher than the three I mentioned.

    • gallowgate26

      IMO it depends whether you think Daryl Murphy would have scored more than Joselu’s 4 goals and contributed more. I agree with Clarko! (Than Atsu is an improvement on Gouffran, see comment below) Anita and Gouffran have been replaced by younger players who are as good/better. Murphy, I can understand why he left and he wants to play games in the twighlight of his career. I don’t think we’d be any better off with those three tbh and I wouldn’t have offered new contracts to Anita & Gouffran.

    • HarryHype59

      Interesting to note that none of Rafa’s new summer signings, started yesterday.

      • Gandalf Greyhame

        Betcha he starts them against Man City. They are all faster or stronger than the starters against Swansea.

  • mentalman

    good article until you said Yedlin was one of the better performers, he’s had one good match and the stats show that our right hand side is our weakest

  • Peter Stabler

    Loan deals are the short term fix to keep us in the top league, get the sale done and invest sensibly in the Summer – hardly rocket surgery.

    • gallowgate26

      We critically need a Remy type loan deal for the remainder of this season. The modern day equivalent may well be Batishuayi from Chelsea. We are relying on Rafa’s good terms with Chelsea. It seems they are more likely to sign some LB/LW from chelsea, which isn’t as important as a striker.

    • Jezza

      Considering Fat Ashley pulled the plug on a bargain basement loan for Southampton reserve last deadline day, I think even loan signings will be too much to hope for this window. Mark my words there will be no new players for NUFC this January.

      • Peter Stabler

        I hope you are wrong, without a goal scorer we are doomed. We continue to make chances and half chances if somebody put them away the pressure would be off. I haven’t got as much confidence in my crystal ball as you have in yours mind.

        • Jezza

          I’m not using a crystal ball, marra. I’m just making the most logical prediction based on ten and a half years of very well established precedent.

  • TC Toon Army

    we need a good player behind the striker. Fair enough about your points but I think is a position that desperately need sorting. All of our players up front would benefit from it. There’s been a void there all season.

    • Leazes

      What striker?

      • TC Toon Army

        Haha, we have waisted what little chances we have at times, but we don’t exactly give the strikers much service. The void.

        • MichaelMaximusMoose

          we haven`t got any strikers

    • hetonmag

      Well according to one or two on here Shelvey’s two steps ahead of the rest in his thinking.

      • Kev Newcastle England

        He is…

        • hetonmag

          Join the rest of the fan club then.

      • MadMag83

        Two steps closer to an early shower.

  • HarryHype59

    Gayle scored 15 EPL goals in three seasons at Palace! His strike rate is similar at NUFC. He is a five goal a season player in the premiership!

    • Paul Patterson

      Second striker.
      He’s what Bellamy was to Shearer. Sadly we don’t have a Shearer . .

      • HarryHype59

        Bellamy was a far better player than Gayle!

        • Paul Patterson

          Can’t argue.

  • Phil K

    We need at LEAST one quality midfielder (NOT a bargain basement one) a QUALITY forward that maybe Gayle can play off and good full backs

    And thats a MINIMUM requirement
    Some of the lunatic prices we were quoted also contributed to Ashley refusing to pay contributed to lack of signings. The Portuguese teams especially were thinking of a number doubling it and doubling again – even for surplus to requirement players who had lost their places !!!!

  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    Striker & a good one or we`re down

    • 1957

      Big Mike’s logic will now be Benitez star striker scored a goal yesterday, why waste money on another striker to warm the bench

      • Paul Patterson

        I think his logic is that we aren’t in the relegation zone so aren’t currently getting relegated. That’s about as far as his mind works. A chancer.

        • HarryHype59

          Agreed, unless we are in the bottom three, he will sign no one.

  • MadMag83

    Gayle is short of confidence, Benitez said so himself a while back. The whole team were always going to find the Championship a big step up. Brighton lost 2-0 to a West Brom side we got a draw against, and Huddersfield got spanked by the same West Ham we’ve taken 6 points from. So all three promoted sides are struggling to an extent. That said the quality of teams of the bottom half of the Premier League is quite poor in general anyway.

    • Gandalf Greyhame

      Er, no. Confidence has nothing to do with this. Gayle is short of EPL quality speed and strength and shooting accuracy. Watch the highlights of the 4-3 Liverpool win over Man City. Watch the second Liverpool goal by Firmino. A through pass is played, Firmino starts two steps behind the Man City defender, outraces him to the ball, roughly muscles him out of the way for good measure, and then curls a shot past the goalie to the inside of the far post. Gayle can’t do that against an EPL level defender, he could in the Championship.

      • MadMag83

        You’re comparing him to one of the best players in the EPL? Benitez said so himself at the start of the season that Gayle was short of confidence…..

        Also, bear in mind that he has scored away at Man Utd and Chelsea, two teams you’d expect to have defenders that are above championship level.

        • Gandalf Greyhame

          “lacking confidence” is an overused cliche. Players go through good and bad streaks, that’s well known. But when one player is fundamentally faster, stronger, and can shoot more accurately than another, those PHYSICAL attributes are what make him a great player as opposed to a mediocre or awful player. And it’s all relative. In the Championship, Gayle was great, in the EPL, he’s at best a good to mediocre player. You can work on your strength and shooting accuracy, you might train and get minimally quicker and faster – speed is essentially something you are born with. Yedlin’s single greatest skill is his speed, but he also has a powerful body that he built through weight training that lets him fight off opponents at EPL level. His passing accuracy needs work, as well as his tactical awareness. Atsu also has great speed and is very quick on the ball. He is too slight, however, and needs to do weight training so he won’t get knocked down so easily and can instead flick his opponents off him like fleas, just like Firmino did in that video highlight. Gayle needs weight training, Ayoze Perez also. Both guys are too slight for the physical EPL and get knocked off the ball too easily and lose the ball without getting a call from the referee. So, with more work, they can get better. Mitro looks like he is strong and well built, but probably not that fast. Probably also not as attentive to his defensive duties, which is why he is in Rafa’s Perpetual Doghouse. Ritchie just looks slow. His play has suffered in the EPL because the other team’s midfielders in the EPL are faster than he is and he gets tracked down and closed off before he can do anything really good. He’s not going to get any faster.

          • MadMag83

            I agree that physicality is important in the EPL, but with regards to upper body strength I would imagine that the opposition defenders these players faced in the Championship are no less strong than those in the EPL. Probably lacking in other areas however but if you take away the top ten teams in the league then I don’t think we are actually talking about opposition players that are much better than those in the Championship.

            And lacking confidence may be over used but it is no less important. Just look at the difference between a confident Cisse and the Cisse who was handed penalties by his team mates to try and build his confidence back up.

            Gayle is no world beater, granted. But he is capable of far better than we’ve seen of him this season. Personally, I think had he not had the injury last season, he would have scored a lot more goals than he has done this season.