Like Paul Dummett before him, Newcastle's Ayoze Perez is silencing the social media doubters
Three goals, three games. Ayoze Perez has been making up for lost time in front of goal.
Perez, we know, can finish, yet he only scored one goal in the first half of the season. Why?
The forward, has made a timely return to goalscoring form for Newcastle United over the past few weeks.
Those strikes have stretched the gap between the club, 10th in the league ahead of Monday night’s game against Everton at Goodison Park, and the relegation zone to 13 points.
United are safe, and Perez, with five league goals to his name, has done his bit.
Perez wasn’t scoring in the first half of the season – he only netted once against Southampton – but Rafa Benitez was still happy with what he was doing.
The 24-year-old, playing as a No 10, was the missing link. When his team was out of possession, he was pressing and tackling. With the ball, Perez, fielded as an out-and-out striker by Alan Pardew in his first season at the club, was Benitez’s link man.
The trouble was that he just wasn’t getting in the box. He was running himself into the ground outside the area – and not making enough runs into the box.
Supporters had their say on social media. One felt he been “ruined” by former manager Pardew, while another argued that he had “regressed dramatically”.
Asked about his role this season, Perez said: “I’m always trying to be that link, as the manager tells me, in the final third – that last pass before the goal. I try to be close to my team-mates to help them with a one-two or whatever is needed.
“Sometimes I don’t get into the box as much as I would like, but most of the time that link is needed to start a counter-attack, to be able to cross.
“These kind of details are my job, what the manager wants from me. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Some fans had questioned Benitez’s preference for Perez, signed as an unknown from Tenerife in the summer of 2014, as a No 10 earlier in the season.
However, his workrate, intelligence and movement ensured his continued selection. With Mohamed Diame and Shelvey forming a midfield axis offering both power and precision behind him, Perez has prospered. So too have United.
“We’ve been talking that No 10 position for two seasons now,” said Benitez. “Some people are saying he (Perez) is too lightweight, and he gives the ball away, but he plays in a position where he often has a lot of players around him and he has to do difficult things.
“He has the movement and the understanding of the game and when we need something, for a player who plays between the lines of defence and midfield, he understands these things. A player who can link with the striker and be a threat in attack, they’re difficult to find.
“Normally, a proper No 10 would be a player with quality when they dribble, but they probably wouldn’t help out much in defence.
“Finding the balance between quality going forward and helping the team is difficult, but he’s the player who can do that for us.”
Perez has now found that balance.