Steve Bruce has had plenty of criticism since he was appointed as Newcastle manager, from both the media and fans alike, but it is hard to criticise him for Saturday’s display.
Yes, Newcastle ended up holding on for the three points in injury time against West Ham, but in reality, the one-goal margin masked a huge gulf between the two sides over the 90 minutes.
Bruce was instrumental in masterminding (no, that is not a typo) the win, and it started an hour before kick-off when the team was announced.
He made a very big call to leave out the breath of fresh air that is Matty Longstaff, and recall the hefty sigh-inducing Jonjo Shelvey, and it seemed harsh on the youngster.
Isaac Hayden was always going to play, but both he and Shelvey dominated the Hammers’ midfield, and pulled the strings for Newcastle all afternoon.
Bruce one, critics nil.
Newcastle’s opening two goals both came from crosses following set-pieces, and it was clear that both were premeditated moves, worked on at the training ground, and was an obvious weakness the coaching staff had identified.
For once, Bruce seemed to have put a specific plan in place, and one that worked a treat, as Newcastle went two goals to the good.
Bruce two, critics nil.
Then there was the overall game-plan. It was the usual counter-attacking formation – no surprise there – but there was a slight tweak, as Bruce made sure that both Miguel Almiron and the awesome Allan Saint-Maximin were always in and around Joelinton.
It prevented the Brazilian from being isolated up-front, and although – amazingly given the chances – somehow, no forwards got on the score-sheet, all three of them had undoubtedly their best games to date.
Bruce three, critics nil.
It will take more than one game to change fans’ opinion
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not saying Bruce is the new Messiah, and all is rosy in the Newcastle United garden, but I am saying this was the best performance of the season, and not just from the players.
I have been as critical as the next fan about Bruce, and Newcastle’s underwhelming start to the season, but I am also man enough to admit when something goes right.
And at West Ham, everything went right, one sloppy goal, and a lack of clinical finishing apart.
There is a long way to go before supporters change their tune about Bruce, and it may be that it never happens, but not many fans could say they did not enjoy 75 minutes of that performance on Saturday.
And if Newcastle can put a consistent run of games together, reminiscent of that first half at the London Stadium, it could be that Steve Bruce could yet win many of those doubting fans over to his cause.