Miles Starforth: There really is only one Jonjo Shelvey '“ and that's Newcastle's problem

There's only one Jonjo Shelvey. And that's a problem for Newcastle United.

Friday, 30th December 2016, 4:30 pm
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 12:22 pm
Jonjo Shelvey

No two players are alike.

There’s only one Dwight Gayle. There’s only one Aleksandar Mitrovic. And so on.

Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden says the absence of Jonjo Shelvey cannot be used as an excuse by the Magpies. Picture by Frank Reid

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But there really is only one Jonjo Shelvey, who is serving a five-game ban.

Rafa Benitez – whose second-placed side take on Nottingham Forest in the Championship at St James’s Park tonight – doesn’t have a player anything like him.

The club’s manager talked about changing his system and formation ahead of Sheffield Wednesday’s Boxing Day visit to Tyneside.

As it was, little changed.

Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden says the absence of Jonjo Shelvey cannot be used as an excuse by the Magpies. Picture by Frank Reid

Benitez, understandably, didn’t want to change too much given that his team had won their previous three games.

The starting XI had a familiar look and shape, though Shelvey, serving the first match of his suspension for racially abusing a Wolverhampton Wanderers player in September

Jack Colback returned from an enforced month-long absence to replace Shelvey, while Vurnon Anita and Yoan Gouffran also came into his team.

Colback had been superb on his last appearance, the 2-0 win over Leeds United last month.

But he’s not a Shelvey. Nor is Isaac Hayden, his midfield partner.

They are different players with different attributes.

And what United lacked against Wednesday was a final ball or a telling pass.

The couldn’t break down an organised opposition happy to play on the counter-attack.

Newcastle couldn’t capitalise on their early chances, and Wednesday’s increasingly physical approach seemed to unsettle them.

A poorly-defended set-piece cost them the game, with Glenn Loovens’ second-half header giving the visitors a 1-0 win.

Hayden, approachable and articulate, was one of the players to speak after the club’s sixth league defeat of the season.

And the midfielder had a point to make.

“People are always going to say ‘if Jonjo was playing’,” said Hayden. “But, at the end of the day, it’s a squad game. Jonjo doesn’t win games by himself. There’s still another 10 players out there that do the job and help the team.

“There’s no getting away from it. Jonjo is a good player and he’s been very important for us this season.

“But there’s no reason to use that as an excuse that because he’s not playing, we shouldn’t be able to win games or dominate games.

“We’re not looking for that as an excuse.”

Hayden’s right.

Newcastle have not been a one-man team this season. Far from it.

But in other positions, Benitez has a natural replacement.

Benitez, however, doesn’t have a player with Shelvey’s footballing vision and range of passing.

So maybe a change in system or formation is needed.

Should United be more direct? Or should they stick with the system until Shelvey can slot back in next month?

Newcastle, even without Shelvey, should have enough to beat most Championship teams.

Wednesday, as pointed out by Benitez before and after the Boxing Day game, are a good team.

The Forest match will give us a better indication of how United will cope without Shelvey.

There shouldn’t be any panic. Why should there be?

Benitez doesn’t have another Shelvey, but this season hasn’t been about just one player.

It’s been a team effort.