Image Credit: Steve Daniels
2020 has been a rough time for us all. Instead of watching the World set itself on fire with all the political, social, and environmental disasters thrown our way, we could usually turn to our local sports team for some much needed enjoyment and a reprieve from 2020 itself.
For fans and spectators of Newcastle United under Steve Bruce, there has been no such reprieve.
At the time of writing, Newcastle United’s most recent Premier League game was a 1-1 draw against newly-promoted Fulham at St James’ Park.
A game of two halves, Newcastle frankly found themselves lucky to scrape a point against the Cottagers. A highly contentious VAR decision was all that stood between Newcastle and defeat.
For the 15th straight Premier League game, Newcastle have enjoyed less possession than their opponents. Of course, Steve Bruce’s Newcastle aren’t FC Barcelona circa 2009, and enjoying complete possession isn’t vital for “Bruceball”, but Bruce’s Newcastle aren’t fun to watch when they make West Bromwich Albion look like Bayern Munich.
Newcastle fans have seen questionable tactics unfold on Tyneside over the course of the season. From the complete freezing out of promising youngster Matty Longstaff, to a painfully long run of games without playing all of Almiron, Fraser, and Saint-Maximin in the same attack, it’s a mystery as to how Newcastle have even functioned as a football team under Bruce.
The Magpies next game is perhaps their most important of the season so far: the Carabao Cup clash against Championship club Brentford. Tuesday night’s game could forecast how the rest of the season will pan out for Newcastle under Steve Bruce.
Brentford are in a rather comfortable position in the second division. Sitting pretty in 4th place, Striker (and ex Newcastle United talent) Ivan Toney is the Championship’s top scorer, with 16 goals after 20 games. Only Cambridge United’s Paul Mullin has scored as many league goals as Toney in England’s top 4 divisions.
They have taken 3 Premier League scalps so far in the Cup too, with Southampton, West Brom, and the aforementioned Fulham all being beaten by the Bees.
Steve Bruce’s Newcastle may have the impressive Callum Wilson up front, and Dwight Gayle is no slouch against lower tier opposition himself, but the idea of being knocked out by the lesser team (on paper) should be seen as a very realistic possibility by Newcastle fans.
Defeat against Brentford would confirm what many Newcastle fans have loudly exclaimed, and what many have been refusing to acknowledge: Steve Bruce has been lucky this season.
They found themselves beating West Ham before the Hammers enjoyed their incredible run of form. ditto Newcastle’s 1-1 draw against Spurs. Plus you will never guess which side from the North East of England managed to meet and defeat Everton during the window where the Toffees’ were in a poor run of form?
Has Newcastle’s sole deserved win this season been their 3-1 triumph over Burnley? A Burnley side that has been performing considerably worse than they have in the last couple of Prem seasons?
If Steve Bruce were to be sacked by Newcastle, he wouldn’t be the first managerial casualty of the season. Slaven Bilic holds that honour, but Bruce may be the first one whose recent performances justify a change in management.
If Newcastle wanted to throwaway the prospect of a cup semi-final, when the last time they reached one was back in the 2004/05 season against Manchester United, then now is the best time cut ties with Bruce. Otherwise, Geordies could look back on this moment in 1, 5, or even 10 years time and remark on how losing this game against Brentford was a missed opportunity’s at long awaited glory.
Whilst I will have egg on my face when Steve Bruce not only beats Brentford, but manages to hoist the Carabao Cup itself in February 2021, Newcastle fans do deserve a manager who gets results and whose tactics are at least understandable. Regardless of his status as a “Local Lad” , Steve Bruce is not that man.
Of course, it’s irresponsible to want one manager out without offering an idea of a replacement. That itself is a whole other problem, as there is a severe lack of managerial free agents who would be willing to work at a club owned by Mike Ashley, and whose aim is more than just “Survive this Premier League season” over and over and over again.
The football hipster in all of us wants to pluck a relatively unknown manager and bring them to our own club. For me that man is Ivan Juric from Hellas Verona, whose defensive tactics has won plaudits across Italy (which would be like being praised for your team’s passing ability in Spain, or attacking prowess in Germany). Juric’s Verona have beaten Atalanta, Lazio, and Roma this season, whilst earning draws against AC Milan and Juventus.
Graham Potter should be considered the next best option for Newcastle: Potter’s attacking style of play would be very much welcomed by the likes of Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron, and Allan Saint-Maximin. If Potter was able to coax the likes of Tariq Lamptey and Yves Bissouma up North, then even better.
With mere days until Newcastle travel to Brentford for their most important game of the season, the eyes of Newcastle fans shouldn’t be on the 22 men on the pitch, but rather on one panicked man in the dugout, who knows that defeat there is a humiliation, and that his luck may just be about to run out.