Newcastle United will be playing Premier League football once again next season.
It’s no achievement, but it certainly looked unlikely back in March.
The Magpies lost 3-0 to relegation rivals Brighton. It was a wretched performance that typified life under Steve Bruce.
The result ensured Newcastle had only won two of their previous 20 games in all competitions.
It seemed like the writing was on the wall for Bruce. There seemed no way back after this. It was even reported that some of the players thought he’d been sacked.
But the manager stayed on. Mike Ashley refused to sack him, instead giving him the chance to get Newcastle out of the mess they’d found themselves in.
And to the surprise of many, Bruce did exactly that.
After the Brighton defeat, Newcastle lost just twice. The Magpies picked up 17 points from a possible 27.
In the end, we were nowhere near the relegation zone. Newcastle finished a respectful 12th, 17 points clear of the drop. They also equalled their best points tally since returning to the Premier League.
It was a remarkable turnaround from Bruce’s side.
A team once scared to venture past the halfway line were playing with freedom. The shackles were somewhat off.
Allan Saint-Maximin had a free role in the middle of the park, while Joe Willock was bursting up the pitch from deep.
We changed system, with wing-backs Matt Ritchie and Jacob Murphy completely changing the way we play. The former added fight, the latter added attacking oomph.
Sure, we still sat in and defended at times. But there was a willingness to get forward. There was a desire to score goals.
It was unrecognisable from the team that had hurtled towards the relegation zone. For that, Bruce deserves credit.
Slice of humble pie, anyone?
“We’ll never say it’s an achievement to finish 12th for a club of our stature but it’s an achievement,” Bruce told the Chronicle after the win over Fulham.
“I hope the people who have written us off, they’ll eat humble pie and give us some credit.”
The lack of clarity continues, as Bruce claims that something is and isn’t an achievement in the same sentence. Which one is it, Steve?
The line about ‘humble pie’ has caused some controversy.
Daily Mail reporter Craig Hope responded to it, imploring Bruce to remain humble himself after an inconsistent season.
Bruce’s son Alex bit back on Twitter, branding Hope as a ‘toxic poisonous little rat’. Charming.
It’s moments like this that only work against Bruce.
‘Well done’ for what?
Bruce should be applauded for a strong end to the season. He’s done well to drag this team from the pits of despair. He’s put out a fire that was raging.
But it was a fire that he started. That cannot be ignored.
The first two thirds of the season were appalling. The football was negative. It was barely even football. The results started to match the performances, and Newcastle slid down the table.
But the Brighton defeat was a turning point. Things have been mainly positive on the pitch since then.
If Newcastle had played all season like they did in the final nine games, Bruce would have fewer critics.
Fans don’t dislike him because he’s not Rafa Benitez. They don’t dislike him because he used to manage Sunderland. They don’t dislike him just because he’s Steve Bruce.
It’s because of the way he’s had us playing. The way he talks about the club. The constant excuses. The lowering of expectations.
Newcastle United are safe. But we are not sound. This hasn’t been a successful season. However, it could have been a lot worse.
Well done Steve Bruce for putting out the fire that you started.