Jonjo Shelvey ban reinforces Newcastle’s need for midfield reinforcements

Jonjo Shelvey, right
Jonjo Shelvey, right

Just when it was all going so well.

This happens.

Newcastle United, the Championship leaders, are facing up to being without Jonjo Shelvey for five games.

Shelvey, one of the club’s most influential players, might not be back on the pitch until late next month.

The 24-year-old has pulled the strings for Newcastle so far this season.

Shelvey, such a disappointment in the latter months of last season following his January move from Swansea City, has passed the ball exquisitely and effortlessly.

Benitez, right now, needs another midfielder, though not many can pass a ball quite like Shelvey.

When he’s played well, United, invariably, have won.

Shelvey’s also looked fitter and more mobile. He’s got up and down the pitch and tackled.

The England international was yesterday found guilty of racially abusing an opponent by an independent panel.

Shelvey was also fined £100,000 and ordered to attend an education course.

The midfielder has a week in which to lodge an appeal.

Shelvey, having strongly denied the charge, is likely to contest the decision with the back of his club.

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez, up to now, has not been drawn on the allegation against Shelvey.

Shelvey was found by the commission to have racially abused an opponent in the club’s defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ in September.

The FA, rightly, takes a strong line against racial abuse, though this particular case is a curious one given that the victim – Moroccan Romain Saiss – did not hear the slur, which was instead reported by a team-mate.

Saiss – who had been making his debut – has a limited grasp of English.

It was reported to officials by Wolves at the end of the game and Shelvey was eventually charged with misconduct last month after a lengthy investigation by the Football Association.

The panel found against Shelvey despite conflicting evidence.

And Shelvey, as it stands, will miss games against Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers, Birmingham City and Brentford, though he will play on Boxing Day if the club appeals the decision.

The FA said the “sanction has been set aside pending consideration for an appeal”.

Benitez, should any appeal fail, won’t just lose Shelvey over the coming weeks.

Up to five players could head to the African Cup of Nations in Gabon, among them Mohamed Diame and Christian Atsu.

Those selected by their countries are likely to head away early next month to begin preparations for the bruising tournament.

If any club in the division can cope with losing so many players in January, it’s Newcastle.

But there’s little margin for error in the Championship.

Newcastle have strength in depth, but losing Shelvey and a number of other players to the Cup of Nations will test the squad.

United, of course, have the option to strengthen in next month’s transfer window.

The club wasn’t minded to make any short-term buys in January before Shelvey’s ban, and the suspension is unlikely to radically alter the club’s thinking ahead of the mid-season window. That’s because Benitez, linked with a loan move for Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek, was already looking at strengthening his midfield options.

Jack Colback hasn’t been available for the past few weeks because of a vision problem, and Tiote, keen to leave the club next month, has made only one substitute’s appearance this season.

It’s not hard to see why Benitez has been linked with Loftus-Cheek, who needs games after recovering from a number of injuries.

Benitez, right now, needs another midfielder, though not many can pass a ball quite like Shelvey.