Newcastle United drew 1-1 in their 135 minute friendly against Royal Antwerp, and Jonjo Shelvey continued to show why he is so important to Rafa Benitez’s side.
During the first half in Spain, the Magpies dominated proceedings, with Shelvey at the centre of everything, trying to break down a stubborn defensive line.
They were able to do so on the stroke of half time, with Matt Ritchie’s lovely lob giving Newcastle the lead going into the break. While Chancel Mbemba may have been the provider for Ritchie’s goal, pretty much all of Newcastle’s threat came through their number eight.
After the first 45 minutes, Shelvey’s game was up and he was replaced by Isaac Hayden. From there on in, Newcastle lost their craft in midfield, and rarely looked like extending their lead over the Belgian side.
Royal Antwerp would grab an equaliser early in to the third period before Dwight Gayle missed a late penalty, meaning the game ended 1-1, and while there were positives to take, such as getting through the game with no injuries and the performances of Victor Fernandez and Massadio Haidara, Newcastle’s failures going forward were there for all to see once again.
While it was only a friendly and the tempo was typically low, it was very clear to see that Newcastle lost a must needed urgency and invention on the ball as soon as Shelvey departed the pitch.
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The midfielder has had a troubled season with two red cards, but has been at his best over the past month, and has been a key reason why Newcastle look to be edging away from the relegation zone.
This is all good and well while Shelvey remains fit and out of trouble, but what would happen if he was not available?
Benitez must find a way of playing without Shelvey, otherwise things could once again look very bleak if we lose our midfield maestro.