Sky Sports News northeast reporter Keith Downie reflects on the situation in Newcastle. Fans feel bored and aloof from Steve Bruce’s side.
Newcastle have failed to win eight competitions in all competitions and have fallen to 15th place after Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Sheffield United in the Premier League.
This is where Downie goes through the fanatics, the criticism of the tactic of whether Steve Bruce will sign someone in January, and the final takeover …
Unacceptable tactics boring fans
After speaking to a number of supporters recently, the overriding complaint they are making is that they are bored. They say they don’t even look forward to games lately because of the level of performance.
Steve Bruce tried to play two up at one point in his tenure but has just turned back to just one striker lately. I think the fans could accept that if Callum Wilson had three attacking players behind him for example, but lately Bruce has been filling his team with defensive players as he thinks this is the best way to get a result to achieve.
I looked at the page on Tuesday and had to look twice at a page that looked even more defensive than usual against the bottom team in the league, which had no win for the whole season. They also had eight attacking players and a goalkeeper on the bench.
That was a touch of tactic of staying in a match as long as possible, hoping to catch something in the final stages. The fans could accept that against Liverpool or Manchester City but they expect their side to take the game to a club like Sheffield United, which is rooted at the foot of the table and devoid of confidence.
Newcastle’s line-up on Tuesday would have given the Blades players a boost as they hit the field. Bruce has had to deal with a number of players affected by Covid-19, particularly his captain Jamaal Lascelles and the most creative player, Allan Saint-Maximin, and we don’t know how fit the players who stayed on the bench on Tuesday actually were .
But from the outside, being ultra-defensive in a game like this wasn’t a good thing. The parting didn’t help, but Newcastle were pitted before they were reduced to 10 men.
But Bruce keeps Ashley’s support
I believe Steve Bruce will retain the support of owner Mike Ashley and the couple have had a solid working relationship. That was not the case when Rafa Benitez took command and Bruce did a good job charming Ashley into changing his transfer policy by refusing to sign players in the latter stages of their careers.
Despite Tuesday’s result – and eight without a win – Ashley believes Bruce is the right man to turn things around and, most importantly, keep Newcastle out of the relegation zone. However, Ashley’s patience is expected to wear off if Newcastle are dragged into the bottom three. Bruce said last night that he would never avoid a challenge and insist that a decision about his future cannot be made by him.
Newcastle fans detached
Fans equate this with how they felt in the last few days of Steve McClaren’s responsible time. They feel that the lack of gaming fun due to the pandemic coupled with the performances they see on their television screens has left them depressed and detached.
I think they were pretty happy at the start of the season when the team got off to a good start, but their negativity has increased week by week. There were decent performances, like wins against West Ham, Burnley and Everton, as well as the home draw with Liverpool, but the majority of fans were dissatisfied with the way they approached most games.
It seems they are trying to stay in games instead of winning them – even against the bottom side of the league as we saw this week. We have asked Bruce many times about fan concerns and he says the team is still in the works after a number of newcomers over the summer, but that statement is wearing off fans to say the least.
There were positive results as the acquisition neared completion in April, but sentiment soon changed when the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund pulled out over the summer. Fans live in the hope that the arbitration between Ashley and the Premier League – which has begun – will bring a long-running saga to a positive end. This is the holy grail for them.
Personnel issues – Covid, signatures, January window
I think it’s unfair to blame the players – or the manager for doing it – for being disinterested. Newcastle has a large number of characters in the locker room and they all want the best for the club. Some of them were physically affected by a Covid-19 roster outbreak in November. This explains some absenteeism and could also be due to some of the benefits.
It’s also worth noting that the team had a hectic schedule against some top teams over the Christmas season. But they’ll be the first to admit that they should perform better, and recent ads haven’t been up to date.
There are a number of players who don’t meet the requirements, but they are not part of the 25-man Premier League roster anyway so they cannot play. Bruce got the players he wanted that summer – Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, and Jamal Lewis – but so far only Wilson has been successful, with the other two battling a number of injuries. You have tried to build up some form.
Bruce is keen to attract a central midfielder and left-back but is well aware that he has to do so in the credit market. It is not easy.
The wait for the takeover is unbearable
As we know, Mike Ashley has initiated legal proceedings against the Premier League for failing to act “appropriately” during the lengthy owner and director test. The Newcastle owner claimed the £ 300m takeover was “officially denied” and the Premier League said it was waiting for additional information to be received from the consortium.
Arbitration is ongoing and Premier Masters boss Richard Masters said he hoped it would be resolved in a “timely matter”. This is played behind closed doors with Newcastle fans desperate for a happy ending to a stressful saga. Ashley only has eyes for the Saudi consortium as he knows they are the only party that can prove they have the funds to buy the club.
Ashley is also seeking arbitration to show Newcastle fans that his desire to sell is real and he has received assurances that the consortium will continue to wait in the wings should he win his Premier League case. The wait for the fans is unbearable – until Ashley leaves, they will remain in a loveless marriage.