(Picture: Action Images)
By Sam Elliott
JONJO SHELVEY and his team-mates were avoiding their phones, their televisions and their radios not so long ago, such was the sense of shame felt when the club were again plucked from the Premier League.
Nobody likes to be reminded of failure. Hiding after relegation was hardly burying their heads in the sand but you understood the need to keep a low profile in the most passionate of football cities.
Perhaps Tuesday’s demolition of Queens Park Rangers symbolised the moment things changed.
Not only did the Toon Army close the gap on leaders Huddersfield Town, but the 6-0 victory was their biggest league away win since 1962.
It represented maybe the moment when those guilty of letting people down as their top flight stay came to an end took the first steps on the road to redemption.
The Newcastle United fans were, for the first time in a long time, proud of their football club again.
Shelvey is quick to accept that a “depression” set in when Newcastle were demoted from the Premier League but he now believes relegation could be the making of the club.
He is alive and kicking. Inspired, he notched two goals against QPR. Back to his swashbuckling best that we all saw at Swansea, the bald-headed midfielder hit a beauty into the top corner for his second.
And at last, there’s a reason for the 24-year-old to reach for his mobile after a match again.
“I was really pleased with my second goal,” said the Romford-born star, who made a mockery of Newcastle’s historic deficiency in London with an outstanding performance.
“I don’t mean this to come out the wrong way but even if you are putting another goalkeeper in there I don’t think they are keeping that out.
“I’ll be honest, the first thing I did when I got back into the changing room was turn my mobile phone on and watch it back on the internet – it was as good as I remembered, which was nice. It was great to see it fly in again. My first goal was a little bit lucky, it took a deflection… it took about two minutes to actually go into the net! But it was probably more important.
“I try the long-range shots in training a fair bit but they never usually go in. I’m having a good period and I’m starting to get rewards from outside the box. The scoreline didn’t flatter us either, there’s confidence everywhere you look at the minute.”
After losing their opening two Championship games, the Magpies have found their feet. Few now don’t anticipate Newcastle going from strength to strength, and it’s hard to argue with those who won’t look further than Rafa Benitez’s side for the title.
Shelvey didn’t come to Newcastle to play in the second tier. He’s determined to only make it a one-year stint.
“I feel at the top of my game at the minute,” he adds. “I feel well, and I’m playing well. The team are too. We’re getting to grips with things.
“When we were relegated it wasn’t nice, it really wasn’t. It goes without saying that you want to play in the Premier League and I had got used to it. You try to avoid hearing about it, but you can’t really escape it.
“It was our fault as players. It’s down to us now as players and only us to get us back up.
“You quickly realise there’s no Old Trafford this year, there’s no Anfield. There’s not a lot you can do about it, so you get ready for trips to Loftus Road!
“Personally I went away from last season feeling very down and depressed. You know you have let the club down and the fans down too. They have bought you in, and the fans have accepted you and they expect you to perform to a certain level. We didn’t and now we have to and I think we may be stronger for the experience.
“I think coping with the pressure being a lot of people’s favourites for the league starts from the manager. At half-time on Tuesday we were 2-0 and cruising really, but he was still in the dressing room telling us at length that the game was not finished as we needed that third goal to kill them off.
“I think there is pressure on you playing for Newcastle in this league regardless of where you are in the table or at what ground you at playing at. If you can’t deal with that then you shouldn’t be playing football, to be honest.”
Still some way from his 25th birthday, a chance to take a step back, rediscover himself and build his game back up in the Championship could be exactly what the undoubtedly talented Shelvey needs.
Shelvey has earned six England caps, but what are the chances of another under Sam Allardyce?
“Obviously, it’s going to be harder as I’m playing in the Championship, but my main focus is just playing for Newcastle – if something comes, then it comes,” he said.
“It’s not for me to say if it’s fair or not, there’s a new set-up now within the England camp and you don’t quite know what Sam is thinking.
“If he comes and watches a game, he comes. The only thing you can do is perform on the pitch.”
*This article originally featured in The FLP on Sunday 18th September.