The Diame In The Rough

By The Way - Weekly Columns

ByTheMinNUFC

By Roddy Graham When news broke in early October that our club captain Jamaal Lascelles and Mo Diame had had a barny on the training ground, which resulted in Jonjo Shelvey fracturing his hand when breaking the fisty cuffs up, you felt like it could spell the end of the Senegalese international's time at St James' Park. Having struggled to cement a regular place in the side and failing to shine when he was given game time, Diame's future seemed bleak to say the least. Fast forward four months and he is now enjoying by far his best spell since his move from Hull City. It's a funny old game. That move from Hull in the summer of 2016 was a strange one. He scored the goal which promoted City to the Premier League in the Championship playoff. The Humberside club were very keen on Diame being an integral part of their side in the top flight and offered him a new extended deal on vastly improved terms. Yet Diame rejected the deal and dropped back down to the second tier to join us. He spoke of his exigency of returning to the Premier League when he moved but said "when Newcastle comes in for you, it makes you think again". That Championship season seemed to pass Diame by and there was a notion among supporters and the media that he could be moved on in the summer window. He was rotated with Ayoze Perez in the number 10 role for the majority of the season. He only managed three goals in the entire league campaign - which, of course, included one stunning strike away at Brighton... He even said himself that he was downheartened with his own form come the end of the season. "Personally I am a little bit disappointed. I didn’t play the way I wanted to. I wanted to make the fans happy, but my body just wasn’t ready for two consecutive seasons in the Championship" he said. At least he was honest! A move didn't materialise in the summer which meant Diame remained a part of Rafa's squad heading into the new Premier League campaign. Some fleeting appearances from the bench was all he could muster in the early periods of the season. Following the aforementioned square go with Lascelles, he was left on the bench for the visit to Southampton. Whilst the captain was earning the love of the support following a fine few games, Diame was left in the lurches amid dissatisfaction from his teammates (the story goes that Lascelles had called Diame "lazy" which resulted in blows being traded) and fans. It took until the end of October for his first start against Burnley. It was a night to forget for Mo, as well asthe team. Going down to a Jeff Hendric strike, Diame has a shocker of a game in the middle of the park. He only made 22% of his tackles attempted. It looked like the sort of performance which could have spelled the end of the road for Diame in a Newcastle shirt as he trudged off the pitch with seven minutes remaining, to be replaced by Dwight Gayle. He featured in losses against Man Utd, Watford, Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal as we went through what was turning into a nightmare November and dismal December. However, it was against his former club West Ham where everything changed. Selected alongside Senegal compatriot Henri Saivet, they ran the Hammers ragged and we recorded our first victory in 10 games at the Olympic Stadium. Diame bagged the second goal that day and his pace, power and persistency were a constant threat to West Ham. It felt like a turning point for Diame in the black and white. Another dogged performance followed in the Man City home loss when Rafa set us up to defend a point and so nearly did so. On New Year's Day, Diame's form extended as Stoke were swept aside. He was now forming a fine partnership alongside Jonjo Shelvey in a more defensive role and was keeping Mikel Merino and Isaac Hayden out the side. Rafa spoke of Diame's "attack-minded" playing style when he signed him and that he would "provide the team with goals and assists from midfield". It was now his determination to regain the ball and spread the play to the more attack-minded players like Atsu, Ritchie and Perez that was coming to the fore. Since that Stoke game Diame has started every league game. He was given the man of the match award in the home game against Burnley - slightly ironic given his dismal performance at Turf Moor in October. He managed to score the opener against Crystal Palace which led to praise from Rafa, who compared Diame to when he played for Rayo Vallecano where he played as a holding midfielder. It was when Jose Mourinho brought his Manchester United superstars to St James' that Diame showed his real worth to the side. On a day when he could easily have been run ragged by the likes of Pogba and Sanchez, Diame stole the show in the middle of the park. He nullified the threat of Man United's forward-thinking players and laid on pass after pass to keep possession for his side. When he had his shorts washed later in the week, the cleaner was surprised to find a £89 million French international lurking in Diame's rear pocket. Since the West Ham game just before Christmas, Diame has started in 8 of the 9 league matches played. We have only lost two of them - both to the rampaging Manchester City. 13 points have come our way in that time. Diame passing accuracy has been at 80% across those matches. Only captain Lascelles has a higher match rating with Squawka in those matches. When Jamaal and Mo went head to head in early October, who would have thought that it would be the two of them that would be delivering the goods as we aim to move away from the relegation troubles? Here's to Mo, Mo, Mo of the same in the next few weeks.