Newcastle United midfielder Jonjo Shelvey was Steve Bruce’s unsung hero in Sunday’s goalless draw with West Bromwich Albion, despite Arsenal loanee Joe Willock receiving lavish praise for his performance at The Hawthorns.
Shelvey anchored the Magpies’ engine room against their relegation-rivals as the two sides played out a drab affair, which extended the Toon’s sorry run of form to just two wins in their last 18 games across all competitions.
The result did neither side any real favours with Newcastle now just a point clear of the drop zone, albeit with a game in hand over 18th-placed Fulham while moving above Brighton and Hove Albion after the south coast side lost 2-1 at home to Leicester City on Saturday night.
Neither West Brom nor Newcastle could claim they deserved more than they took from the weekend’s result, in an encounter featuring some intent from both sides but little to no quality from either the hosts or visitors when it mattered.
The Baggies had arguably the better chances to snatch what would have been just the West Midlands outfit’s fourth win of the Premier League season, but could not make their pressure count with Mbaye Diagne only able to direct one of his four shots on target.
West Brom also delivered 36 crosses as a team as they were forced to play wide, but found their efforts thwarted by Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark in the Toon backline as they restricted Diagne to winning just five of his 15 aerial duels, per SofaScore.
Lascelles won two of his aerial contests while Clark won four, along with seven of nine ground challenges to hold Diagne to two from seven, for Sky Sports to name the centre-back duo as the stars of the visiting side.
Yet, for Chronicle Live, Willock was the Magpies’ Man of the Match having looked like the only Newcastle player capable of winning the game, and would have had it not been for Sam Johnstone denying the Arsenal loanee at his near post on the hour mark.
However, it was not Willock, Lascelles or Clark who was Bruce’s real hero but rather Shelvey, having provided a key defensive presence in the midfield battle. The former Liverpool and Swansea City star also kept Newcastle on the ball far better than United’s winter signing.
Shelvey recorded four successful tackles on Sunday, double the tally registered by Willock and from one fewer attempts, with the Gunners product dribbled past in five of his seven lunges for possession, per WhoScored.
Willock also offered half as many clearances as Shelvey (4) and made no interceptions, while the 29-year-old broke up West Brom’s play a game-high six times – three-times as often as any of his teammates, with Paul Dummett second with two.
Newcastle’s midfield play also flowed through Shelvey, with the £13m-rated beast taking 62 touches and completing 70% of his 44 attempted passes – only Clark (49) attempted a higher amount while Willock misplaced 48% of his 23 passes.
Despite being more defensive-minded in his approach, Shelvey additionally matched Willock for key passes with one goalscoring opportunity created each and shots taken (1).
Shelvey’s efforts even eclipsed the former England international’s average 1.4 successful tackles, 0.9 interceptions and 1.3 clearances per game in the Premier League this season by a considerable margin.
Bruce will have been delighted to see Shelvey thrive at such a level, given some of his performances in February were lazy and disinterested, while putting Willock in his shadow.