One thing you can say about Steve Bruce is that he is able to pull off a result when the team need it. When Newcastle United are in the very jaws of defeat, when their nadir seems only a split-hair away, Bruce is able to galvanise his men and pull off a slick result or two.
On the flip-side, Bruce is not able to bring about any needed consistency and even gear his players up for a game against a team like Arsenal. Newcastle have only won on consecutive occasions twice during this league campaign: victories against Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion in November-December, and this year, the wins against Burnley and West Ham in April. That is all.
Drunk on optimism following the likely security of Newcastle’s league position, we have almost forgotten that the season has been a huge disappointment. Newcastle lie 17th and yet some pundits have said that Bruce should be given credit for pulling them out of the danger zone. How can we give credit to someone for merely righting the wrong they so calamitously bestowed upon us in the first place?
Newcastle will no doubt avoid relegation – but once this one ends, another begins; that means a summer full of takeover noise and distraction, a lack of money to bring in players to improve the squad and ensure that the side actually compete next season. This is a mid-table club that should have their sights set on progressing north of the table, not having to worry about any sort of relegation battle. But that’s what you get with a tactically inept manager like Bruce.
This season has been statistically shambolic: Newcastle are 17th for total shots per-90 – same highest for being dispossessed. They have the highest clearances per-90, 22.8 – an obscene amount. And what’s more, they are forced to make the highest total saves per-90 in the six-yard box in the Premier League (0.5) – and fourth-worst inside the penalty box, two on average.
As quoted in Football365, Bruce said after the game on Sunday: “Arsenal played well. It’s a poor goal after four minutes. When you’re chasing against these lads it’s always going to be difficult. Arsenal were the better side today it was as simple as that.
“We are delighted to see we are a bigger threat. Allan Saint-Maximin in the last few weeks has produced all sorts of magic but it wasn’t quite there today.”
Arsenal hardly got out of third gear and did not offer much of a threat to Newcastle at all. The Gunners are in a poor run of form and could so easily have been turned over had the home side applied even an iota of pressure to them.
Bruce’s words on Saint-Maximin are also worrying. It’s like the entirety of the team’s fate rest on his shoulders. This is not how a club should operate. Given the number of months Bruce has been in charge of the Magpies, the only conclusion we can draw is that the side has regressed to such an extent and expectations within the squad are so low, that ‘pass to Saint-Maximin’ is the core principle of the pre-game team talk. Relegation might be off the cards for now but Bruce’s sacking shouldn’t be.
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