The Eddie Howe decision which surprised many Newcastle United fans

Eddie Howe was quick to give one under-performing player a vote of confidence at Newcastle United.

That player was Jonjo Shelvey. Shelvey has had his critics this season, and in previous campaigns, but Howe backed the midfielder to be a “very important” player for him this season.

Speaking in November, the relegation-threatened club’s new head coach said: “When you work with him, you realise he’s an incredible technician. He can play passes all over the pitch, long and short.

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“In terms of our philosophy, and how we want to play, he’ll be very important for us.”

Shelvey has long frustrated some United fans, and the team’s struggles under Steve Bruce earlier this season saw his performances come under scrutiny.

The former England international has also been sensitive to media criticism, and he ran to the press box at Newport County last season making a "shhh” gesture after scoring a late equaliser against the League Two club.

The 29-year-old has a good vision and a phenomenal range of passing, but his workrate has often been questioned by supporters.

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Shelvey may have got the headlines at Elland Road on Saturday for his winner against Leeds United, a free-kick which bounced awkwardly for Illan Meslier, but what was more striking was the work he did off the ball.

Jonjo Shelvey celebrates his goal with Kieran Trippier.Jonjo Shelvey celebrates his goal with Kieran Trippier.
Jonjo Shelvey celebrates his goal with Kieran Trippier.

A week earlier, he had been criticised for his performance in the 1-1 home draw against Watford. Newcastle had been too passive after taking the lead, and Shelvey and his team-mates handed the visitors the initiative.

As such, maybe Shelvey was fortunate to keep his place at Elland Road.

Howe, though, kept faith with him, and he was rewarded with a strong performance in and out of possession.

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Shelvey – who took the captain’s armband after Jamaal Lascelles was forced off with a second-half injury – ran and pressed in his own half early in the game when Leeds were on top, and he was also a threat at the other end of the pitch.

Jonjo Shelvey is congratulated by head coach Eddie Howe.Jonjo Shelvey is congratulated by head coach Eddie Howe.
Jonjo Shelvey is congratulated by head coach Eddie Howe.

“He’s hugely important,” said Howe. “He’s the central player, the supplier in possession. He started a lot of our attacks, and has a creative eye. He has a really good range of passes.

“When you are the central player, from a defensive perspective, he was very, very accurate with his positioning.

“He intercepted the ball a number of times, and I think that’s a really good marker. He stopped a lot of their attacks. I was really pleased with him. I'm sure if you ask him, he’ll admit that's the hardest part of his game.”

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Passing, we know, comes easily to Shelvey, but he's having to do the hard part too under Howe to stay in the team.

For his part, Shelvey hopes to, at the very least, see out his contract at Newcastle, the club he joined six years ago from Swansea City.

Speaking to the Gazette in October, he said: “I’m contracted for 18 months, and, until I’m told I’m not wanted, I’ll give it my all. I’ll live life right, put the effort in, and, hopefully, stay in the team.”

Some fans thought the arrival of Howe, a head coach who demands energy and intensity from his players, would be the beginning of the end for Shelvey.

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Howe, however, could yet prolong the Romford-born player’s Newcastle career.

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