By Kristan Heneage
Newcastle's performances at home in the Championship haven't been perfect, but they're improving after a 3-1 win against Brentford on Saturday.
The Magpies entered the clash knowing a win at home was vital for both their promotion hopes and the form book. Newcastle have yet to earn consistency at St James' Park this season, with defeats to Huddersfield and Wolverhampton Wanderers representing notable blemishes on Rafa Benitez's brief tenure.
In good form themselves, Brentford would be no pushovers. Dean Smith has produced a well organised outfit that sought to frustrate Newcastle early on. Learning lessons from those that had left victorious earlier in the season, the Bees were eager to stay compact and use Scott Hogan as their quick out ball.
Yet, in standing off Newcastle, Brentford allowed Jonjo Shelvey to orchestrate proceedings. The former Liverpool man has been described as mercurial and temperamental at times, but his ability to dictate play and produce a range of passes cannot be contested.
During the first half on Saturday he twice lofted precise and dangerous balls in behind the Brentford defence, and twice they resulted in Newcastle goals.
The first saw Ciaran Clark head home in a move that left Smith furiously bemoaning the space his own defenders had allowed the Irishman, before a second from Dwight Gayle had the home fans boisterous.
Confidence flowing, Newcastle began to turn on the style. A slick interchange of passes saw Ayoze Perez dummy it for Yoan Gouffran to run onto -- his shot palmed away by Daniel Bentley.
In response, Brentford mustered a Hogan header on the break, but too often their final pass was over hit or mistimed.
Allowing Shelvey to continue his one man show, the hosts went into half-time comfortably ahead. The perfect antidote to previous stumbles, the Magpies continued in a similar vein after the interval.
Adopting an intense pressing style that gave Brentford's centre-backs little time on the ball, the visiting duo performed admirably in their battle against Gayle and Perez.
However, with another dash of Premier League quality the Magpies had a third. Shelvey was again instrumental as his low cross from the left byline found Gayle inside the six yard box. The striker is in fine form for Newcastle, and is now just one shy of double figures.
The midfielder wheeled away to celebrate with the Gallowgate crowd, the icing on top of a strong home performance. Sprinkling the game with a number of intelligent touches and passes, his ball playing was well complimented by the pace of Gayle, Yoan Gouffran, and Christian Atsu.
"He's a very technically gifted player," Brentford's Ryan Woods said of Shelvey afterwards. "He hasn't played in the Premier League and for Liverpool for no reason.
"When you give players space in this league, and in the Premier League, it doesn't matter how good they are they're going to hurt you. He's one of the top players in this league so that space is going to hurt you even more."
Newcastle didn't have it all their own way though. A set piece from Brentford allowed Hogan to head home, but it served only as a consolation rather than the start of a fight back.
Credit to the Bees, their effort levels rarely dropped. A team attempting to sneak into the playoffs this season, their credentials were tested heavily against promotion favourites Newcastle.
Unable to match the Magpies man for man, the visitors do still hold glimmers of quality in players like Hogan and defender Jon Egan.
Meanwhile, for Newcastle there are back to back home wins for only the second time this season. Growing in confidence with each passing victory, the team's potential may sit in just how well Shelvey and Gayle can continue to connect.
"His range of passing is up there with the Premier League's best," goal scorer Gayle said afterwards. "If he's focused in the way that he is at the moment he's one of the best players in the country. He's proven that recently and long may it continue."