Updated: Jan 12
It has been a pretty mixed bag for Newcastle United so far this season.
So as we move into the second half of the campaign we've taken a look at some of the individual highs and disappointments in terms of contribution to the Magpies campaign thus far.
Whilst there has been some encouragement to be taken form the wins over Manchester United and West Ham the continued lack of a clinical touch in front of goal for the front three is a worry in particular.
But let's start at the other end of the pitch...
One undoubted highlight of the season has been the continued outstanding form of the Untied stopper.
Looking back at the transfer window of January 2018 it was clear that Rafa Benitez was trying to find a long term replacement for Elliot and Darlow who just couldn't seem to reach that standards required in the Premier League.
Little did we know then that, in Martin Dubravka, Rafa and his scouting team had found arguably one of Europe's top performing keepers. Certainly true on recent performances.
Dubravka may not have the silky skills and passing range that some managers desire in their number 1, but as a shot stopper, commanding presence and strong at set pieces, United have a real diamond on their hands.
Seemingly every game Dubravka is required to pull off one amazing save after another. No other keeper in the Premier League comes close to him in terms of the number of saves and clearances made this season. No the wonder then that a number of sports websites also have him right up there when it comes to scoring his performances.
The 30 year old keeper still has many of his best years ahead of him. The biggest problem may well be keeping hold of one of United's most prized assets as it is inconceivable that other clubs, both on these shores and abroad, aren't keeping tabs on him.
Next we look at Jamaal Lascelles.
It's interesting sometimes reading the reaction to Lascelles on social media, either when playing or absent. A common theme seems to suggest that many Newcastle fans see the Englishman as something of a weak link in the United back line, or at the very least he is considered not to be of the same calibre of the likes of Schar, Fernandez and Lejeune (the Lejeune of last season anyway).
Newcastle's solidity at the back is something that had been worked on for seasons under Rafa. At times this season we've seen the echo's of this organisation, determination and spirit. Clean sheets against Brighton, and particularly that against Spurs, would have been pleasing for Bruce and his management team.
Even against the potent attacking threat of high flying Liverpool, the team looked solid for the most part.
But with injuries taking their roll, both for Lascelles and others, we've also seem some frailty in the Magpies back line. The like of which we've not seen for quite some time.
When he was fit his performances seemed to have been more of an emphasis in using the ball. On a number of occasions we’ve seen him step out of the back line and run into midfield. His passing success rate may not be as high as some in the Premier League but at over 80% it’s not too shabby either.
What will be interesting to see is if he makes an immediate return to the side once fit. For us, his leadership and style compliments two 'ball-playing' centre halves either side of him should Newcastle play three at the back. So a must for Bruce once he can play him again.
At the other end of the pitch there is an even greater puzzle to solve however.
It’s clear that in Joelinton the experiment of bringing in a high cost, high potential gamble just isn't paying off.
Quite whether he would ever deserve the abuse in the form of 'you're not fit to wear the shirt' chanting during the away debacle at Rochdale however is another matter.
United’s star striker and record signing is being starved of any kind of service. But for his winning goal against Spurs, Joelinton has done little to impress, with a current conversion rate of just 3% and a shot accuracy of 50%.
Compare this to last season and, even with Rafa’s supposed more negative style, Rondon was averaging about twice as many shots per game. The Venezuelan also managed significantly better both in terms of shot accuracy (71%) and chance conversion (15%). It is also worth noting that Ayoze Perez managed an identical accuracy to Rondon last season, whist his conversion rate ended the season at an impressive 22%.
We'd love nothing more than to see the lad succeed, but you get the feeling time is running short on the lad who, to add to his frustrations, is also being asked to play in ever changing roles and formations.
Encouragement should at least be taken from the West Ham performance in particular. His link up play with Almiron and Saint-Maximin offering some hope that there is something of a partnership to be built. Let's hope that a return for Saint-Maximin can spark a goal that he can use as a platform to prove his growing army of doubters wrong.
Almiron / Saint-Maximin
Finally, we see the green shoots of progress with both these players.
For Saint-Maximin the story is clear. Get fit and get back on the pitch.
You only have to feel the buzz, the atmosphere, when he's on the ball to know the Frenchman has something special in his boots. His goal against Sheffield United capping a great run of performances that say him contribute not just in front of goal but by tying his opponents in knots in a way that allows space and freedom for others in black and white.
The problem child then 'had' been Almiron...
Not any longer.
A little like Joelinton perhaps, there was beginning to be some scratching of heads as to whether the lad would ever make the Premier League player that those glimpses of energy, pace and skill were suggesting.
First there was the relief of his first goal, a wining goal, against Crystal Palace.
And just like busses, there was another along shortly after. In fact 3 goals in 6 games, and 2 in 2 with back to back thunder strikes against first Rochdale away in the Cup and then a stunner against Wolves have changed the mood on Tyneside.
One can only hope that this new rich vein of form continues, and that his partner in crime is back fit and raring to go soon too. You'd think with both of these lads firing all Steve Bruce has to do is find a way to unlock Joelinton's potential and there is every chance we could avoid flirting with the dreaded 'R' word in the last few games of the season!
Stats correct as at Wolves (a)