When the footballing hiatus was enforced in March this year, Newcastle had recently managed to halt a run of five games without a win as they scrapped their way to a 1-0 victory over Southampton.
Despite the poor run of form, the Magpies were still well clear of the drop zone, yet still there were murmurs of discontent around St. James’ Park.
Steve Bruce’s side had notched just ten goals in their previous 14 league games – clear cause for frustration among home fans expecting a revival of Keegan’s entertainers at some point in the near future.
Fast forward four months and Newcastle are unbeaten in five of their six games, have scored ten goals in six games and even recorded their first four-goal league haul this season in the away win over Bournemouth.
The entertainers are back!
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but there’s certainly been an upturn in the club’s recent performances (City game aside) - with extra emphasis on forward play - and the man central to their recent good form: the much maligned Jonjo Shelvey.
The midfield man has been instrumental in the club’s surge up the table, notching the equaliser against West Ham in a stunning individual display and producing a perfectly weighted through-ball for Valentino Lazaro in the 4-1 thumping of the Cherries.
Despite impressive recent displays, the England international has been the subject of criticism from the Geordie faithful since his 2016 move from Swansea, with his attitude and disciplinary record called into question.
However, one thing which can’t be denied is the 28-year-old’s ability with the ball at his feet. His eye for a pass and ability to execute eye-of-the-needle long balls once saw English heavyweights Liverpool pinpoint him as a potential successor to club-legend Steve Gerrard - with the Reds snapping up 18-year-old Shelvey from League One outfit Charlton Athletic.
With the youngster’s Anfield career failing to take off, Shelvey moved to Swansea where he was a huge success, becoming an integral part of the team that recorded a Premier League best finish of eighth in 2015.
So why has it taken so long for the midfield man to display his true talent in a black and white jersey? The truth of the matter is that Newcastle have only recently started playing to Shelvey’s strengths.
At Swansea the England man was part of a side with a clear footballing ethos – everything would be played through midfield and he was constantly looking to get on the ball and pick a pass. However, at Newcastle, the Magpies’ midfielders would regularly leave the pitch with cramp in their neck having spent 90 minutes watching the ball fly aimlessly over their heads.
While Rafael Benitez’s compact style of play gleaned the results that kept Newcastle in the top tier, the football was far from stellar, with the midfield regularly bypassed as defenders looked to clear their lines as soon as possible.
However, with the Tyneside club the subject of a looming takeover bid, talk of Steve Bruce’s future has begun to circulate, and the boyhood Toon fan appears to be embarking on one last bid to prove his brand of football can put Newcastle back among England’s elite.
Everything now goes through the midfield, with Bruce eager to get livewire Allan Saint-Maximin on the ball at every given opportunity, and Shelvey is the man with the ability to find the enigmatic Frenchman.
With Shelvey’s influence on the team growing by the week, the former Liverpool man is clearly relishing the chance to be the central figure at a Premier League club once again, and his goal output is yet another indication of the newly-found confidence his performances have instilled.
Having notched just seven league goals in his first three and half years on Tyneside, the midfielder already has six for the season with four games still to play.
While Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almirón are rightly lauded for their recent upturn in form, the catalyst for their success has undoubtedly been Shelvey.
The aforementioned forwards have arguably played no better since their recent goal spurts, however, the difference is Bruce is now instructing his team to give Shelvey the ball whenever possible, who in turn has the ability to find the forwards rather than them having to deal with 50/50 long balls pumped forward from defence.
Newcastle’s recent purple patch might not be enough to save Bruce’s job if their Saudi Arabian-backed take over is approved, but Shelvey’s performances this season should be enough to convince any incoming manager that the England man still has a crucial role to play at Newcastle.