Overall, this season has been a success thus far. However, as with every team in every season, there have been stand-out players in each part of the pitch. These players have provided our team with a strong spine for this season.
Goalkeeper – Karl Darlow
This is one of the most obvious and easy choices to make for who is performed between the sticks this season. Darlow was given his chance when Rafa realised that Sels wasn’t good enough. The former Forest stopper has produced many great saves this season: two penalty saves against Forest, saves against Brighton in the first half and who could forget that unbelievable save against Rotherham when he recovered from his own mistake. That was potentially the save of the season as Darlow had no right to save the shot but somehow, he managed to push it away.
Defence – Ciaran Clark
We have had by far the best defence in the league, keeping a total of 18 clean sheets this season. None of this would’ve been possible without a great back line; however, Ciaran Clark has been an absolute warrior this season. Signed from ‘rivals’ Villa in the summer, many doubted him (including myself) and he has proven everyone who doubted him wrong. He has put his body on the line in many games, especially in the QPR game when he played with a head injury for 90 minutes.
Clark knows when to clear the ball, when to play out from the back and when to come out with the ball. He has developed into a very sensible defender and is by far the calmest centre-back at our club. He never panics and you don’t worry when he runs into the opposition’s half with the ball. Rafa has developed Clark into a defender that times his challenges well, is very dominant in the air and is a great leader.
Midfield – Jonjo Shelvey
Many supporters may find this one difficult to pick but for me, there’s only one winner. Shelvey has an eye for a killer pass and has carved opened defences with his pinpoint accuracy. His importance has been evident to see this creating a total of 65 chances, scoring 4 goals. He has an average pass length of 24m and the closest player to him that isn’t a goalkeeper or defender is Ritchie with 18m. This proves that Shelvey knows that he has the ability to find the perfect pass through the defence or over it. One pass that stands out for me is his dead ball delivery against Rotherham from the halfway line to unleash Yedlin down the right. He picked out the American who didn’t have to break stride and was able to easily set up Murphy for the opener.
Striker – Dwight Gayle
In terms of scoring goals this season, Gayle has stood out like a sore thumb. The brilliant poacher has managed to score 21 goals this season and it would’ve been nearer the 30 goal mark had he not picked up that hamstring injury which kept him out for five games in a row. Since returning from his injury, he only has 1 goal since December 31st. Gayle has been able to average a goal every 92 minutes in the Championship. To put this into perspective, Wood averages a goal every 121 minutes, Abraham averages a goal every 144 minutes, Murray every 152 minutes and Kodjia every 195 minutes. Without Gayle’s goals this season, we would be in serious trouble as our next highest goal scorer is Ritchie with nine goals.
Defence – DeAndre Yedlin
Yedlin has improved with every game and is now a very important player in our team. He seems to make Ritchie play better and his pace is frightening for every defence in the league. He allows us to play with almost three wingers which forces the opposition’s left winger to play as a second full back. We’ve definitely missed his pace over these last few games.
Defence – Jamaal Lascelles
Overall, this season has been great for Lascelles. He has been able to improve as a player and learn his trade in a tougher league with a world class manager. The only reason he wasn’t picked as defender of the season is because o his recent form. He isn’t leading on the pitch like last season and seems too lacklustre on the ball. Lascelles needs to know when to clear the ball into the stands and when he can pass it out. This will come with age and experience and I hope we keep hold of him this summer as he could be a great centre-back for seasons to come.
Midfield – Matt Ritchie
Ritchie could’ve easily been our player/midfielder of the season. The only reason Shelvey was ahead of him is that sometimes, the Scottish international can go missing. He is a leader on the pitch and is frequently screaming at the full back behind him to push up or drop back. He controls the midfield when Shelvey drops deep to pick up the ball. His contribution has been second to none this season with nine goals and 74 chances created. Shelvey just gives that edge in midfield as he keeps the game ticking; he decides what pace the game is played at and when to start increasing pressure on the opposition. Ritchie has been outstanding though, there is no doubt about it.
Striker – Daryl Murphy
We all knew Murphy was never going to be Player of the Season for Newcastle this year. However, when he has been called upon by Rafa, the Irishman has never disappointed (unlike Mitrovic). He has four goals in ten appearances. He has changed games for us this season and won us vital points, for example: Brighton away, Brentford away, Rotherham at home and Huddersfield away. Murphy was never going to get a tonne of chances in the team this season, but four goals in five starts is quite a good return on a striker that cost next to nothing.