Jonjo Shelvey – The key to Newcastle’s Success this season?

For many this season, Jonjo Shelvey has been the real stand out performer, and whilst Dwight Gayle will deservedly get the majority of the accolades for his form in front of goal and being the leagues top scorer, it is Shelvey who has been crucial to the success of Newcastle at the beginning of the season.

For example, almost half of Gayle’s goals came in one game (3/7) vs Norwich, which was undoubtably a fantastic and crucial performance from Gayle, yet it is not belying of a consistent scoring touch so far this season. The consistency that is so crucial in the championship has not been evident in many players, Hayden has shown early signs of promise but is not yet a real match winner or force in midfield. The goalkeepers have had to be changed due to inconsistent form from Matz Sels, who although made mistakes,  has not been so bad as to merit any form of online abuse, let alone the torrent the he received. Whilst Lascelles and Clark have not looked bad, (especially Clark who had his critics early on) , they still conceded 2 goals against Wolves and 3 against Norwich, and with Chacel Mbemba and Grant Hanley in and out of the team, there is not yet an established back line.  However, Jonjo Shelvey has been a constant in the midfield, and is involved in the majority of goals this season in some manner.

For example in the 96th minute against Norwich, it was Shelvey’s raking 60 yard pass pinpointed onto the head of Mitrovic that allowed the ball to be brought down for Gayle to sweep home, much to the delirium of the home fans.  Furthermore, in Newcastle’s most impressive victory this season (away at QPR) Shelvey was crucial, scoring the first goal to start the rout, and then the third straight after half time to crush any ideas of a fightback. As such, for me it is the ability of Jonjo Shelvey that has been key so far, it seems ridiculous that when watching Newcastle, one is no longer surprised to see a 60 yard pass land perfectly on the boot of a winger or striker, and look back to see Shelvey starting to follow his perfectly weighted ball. Shelvey is simply too good for this league.

Although, it would be unfair to give Shelvey the credit for all of Newcastle’s success so far, as his moments of magic are usually interjected between periods of inactivity, yet his passing and shooting range has shown him to be a key player so far in the season.

As there will undoubtably be games in which Shelvey misses due to injury, suspension or simply does not perform,  one must look at who else can be truly counted on. The most simple answer is Matt Richie, who whilst not quite having the impact of Shelvey’s magic moments, has shown ability in almost every game he has played in, and is fast becoming a fan favourite due to his fantastic work rate, and clear threat on the wing. However, Ritchie seems to have found competition in Christian Atsu, who looks extremely lively due to his pace and scored a wonderful goal on his full debut at Rotherham, and if Atsu gets more game time, he seems to be a great attacking option. Furthermore, another player breaking into the team very promisingly is Deandre Yedlin, whose pace down the right wing is a another attacking avenue which looks very threatening, as shown by his involvement in the goal at Villa park.  Finally, perhaps the most unexpected option is that of Yoan Gouffran, who has been truly revived this season, scoring crucial goals versus Norwich, wolves and Derby, and is a real grafter, whose defensive commitment is clear to see, which must be truly appreciated by the team. As if to back this up, there is the bizarre statistic that Newcastle have not lost with Gouffran in the team yet this season, and that he now also has a taste for the spectacular volley, scoring against derby and wolves with great technique, and having a further volley cleared off the line at rotherham. It seems that if all of these players can hit their stride at once, then results such as the thrashing of QPR will come around more often.

What needs to happen at Somerset in order to fulfil their promise

This year for Somerset ccc has been one of undoubted promise yet unprecedented failure. What should have been a T20 squad to challenge any side, as it included the two highest run scorers in T20 history (Gayle and Jayawardene), failed to pass the group stages showing a lack of depth across all 3 formats of the game. That said, The Royal London Cup was partially successful as we reached the semi final, yet as so often with Somerset they failed to go all the way.  Whilst we may finish high-mid table in the championship, we are struggling to really control games, often needing moments of inspiration, not team performances to win. Two clear examples of this were the incredible victories over Surrey where Tim Groenewald and Jack Leach batted out a last wicket stand to win the game, or the win over Durham where Van Der Merwe and Leach somehow finished off the Durham lower order leaving us with a 39 run victory. However, this only serves to highlight the individual talent that exists rather than the cohesion as a team.

As the title suggests there is clear promise for Somerset, some of the young talent emerging is the best Somerset have shown for years. Tom Abell looks to be a fantastic batsmen, who can play in both limited overs cricket and the championship format, and he has a century in each competition so far. Furthermore, Ryan Davies has really come into his own recently with mentally strong batting displays against Lancashire and is improving all the time. Whilst we can find encouragement in the fact that this youthful talent is well complemented by the experience of some truly gifted cricketers such as Marcus Trescothick, Peter Trego and Chris Rogers. Furthermore, players such as James Hildreth who in the eyes of many should have had an England chance, are coming into their prime. The basis is there for a truly class team, especially when you add the fact that Somerset can afford/attract international players of Gayles’s stature.

However, something is going wrong and what should be a great team is failing to perform at its best. Perhaps a reason for this lack of cohesion is recent promotion of new player Jim Allenby to captain in limited overs cricket, I think that Allenby is a good addition to the squad who adds both experience and ability, as he has proven across all formats. However, I can’t help but feel that it would have been better for the squad to have a familiar face leading the team. Furthermore, Somerset seem to mirror England’s ability to have a sensational mid-order collapse, and are often dug out by the lower order, especially Groenewald, and more recently Davies. The fact that talented batsmen such as Gregory, Hildreth, Trego and Allenby do not regularly produce a score of some sort, leaves our totals entirely dependent on the opening duo or the lower order. This lack of consistency undoubtably is costing Somerset games, and is why we are struggling to compete with the top teams.

So what needs to happen? I think that we need a fast bowler who can take wickets on a more regular basis than the Overtons and Gregory. Leach has really proven himself this year as a front line spinner, yet Somerset lack a fast bowler that takes wickets consistently such as Toby Roland-Jones or Chris Rushworth for Middlesex and Durham respectively. We need to keep nurturing the young talents the we have at the moment, and start to focus on a long term batting partner for Abell as Trescothick has no more than 2/3 years left. As was mentioned, the basis is there for a winning team across all formats, and it is time that Somerset start to realize their potential.

(Getting Jos Buttler back wouldn’t be the end of the world either!)