Steve Bruce spoke to the media ahead of tomorrow’s vital fixture against Aston Villa. Newcastle United find themselves in quite a predicament, now only one point above the relegation zone, with key players injured, and teams around them finding their form. Here’s what Bruce had to say, and some commentary about his comments. (Questions are bolded, Steve Bruce’s responses are italicized and quoted.)
When asked about Callum Wilson’s recovery
“Well, he’s 4 weeks in ... we’ve seen him on the grass, progressing. That goes for Allan [Saint-Maximin] and [Miguel] Almiron as well.” “We hope with the international break ... they’ll be there or thereabouts.”
- This is certainly a positive development, as Newcastle desperately need more quality in the final third. However, there is plenty of concern that their return could be too little, too late.
On Matty Longstaff being in contention for a place in the team
“He hasn’t been away, he hasn’t found himself in the team” ... “With someone so young, it was important that he got some game time under his belt.”
A follow up, on the fact he hasn’t played Matty since mid-January
“I can only pick 11, I have 15 others ... disappointed” “He’s still got a huge, big future” “We’ve decided he can play a few games (in the reserves) and still have some football”
- This is concerning, as there has been a lack of quality in the midfield. Longstaff has certainly showed promise but Bruce seems content to let him stay fresh with the U23’s...
Asked if Fulham’s result vs. Liverpool increased the pressure on NUFC
“There’s no doubt they’ve had a really good couple of weeks ... all of the bottom 6 or 7 are nervous at the moment” ... “I’ll let others speculate on (the magical number).” “Still a long way to go”
- The talk of the magical number that someone else should speculate on has been a talking point with Bruce for a while now. He seems to know there is a rough number (be it 38, 40) of points that equals safety. Unfortunately, there seems to be no plan to actually get to it...
On reports of there being no relegation pay-reduction clause for players
“I’m not privy to certain players and contracts” ... “There must be something that you don’t talk about, everyone's is a little bit different”
Follow up, on if there would be added incentive if there were (clauses)
“...I wouldn’t think so” ... “People don’t really think about money at this sort of time.”
- These are quite bizarre, if not unexpected, responses from Bruce. Anyone who follows Newcastle knows he probably has little to no control over the transfers or contracts despite his stance that he does. To say players wouldn’t be more motivated to win if their direct compensation was at stake is very strange, to say the least.
Asked about playing without fear
“Fear maybe the wrong word, there’s a tension ... Fulham have had a very decent result ... a good few weeks, (but) we still have months to go” ... “it’s the accumulation of points, as I keep saying”
- Yes, he keeps talking about the points accumulation, but again, based on the form table (MW 21 - MW 28), Newcastle are 17th, while Fulham are 6th, and even Brighton are 13th.
Regarding strikers finishing in front of net
“We had two wonderful opportunities at West Brom, and we’ve been unfortunate on both” ... “...hopefully we’ll get in the right position tomorrow and take (our) chances.”
- Not a ton of optimism here; Newcastle only created seven shots against West Brom and without a true striker in the lineup, the margin for error was razor-thin. With this type of comment, one would hope a more clear plan to convert in front of goal would be designed.
On Villa’s remarkable turnaround
“They’ve done remarkably well ... in particular, since I’ve left” ... “They’ve bought well ... 2-3 players left (in the squad) in two years” (referencing turnover of team) “...have had huge investment...”
- Oh, this is just too good. First he admits they’ve kicked on directly after his dismissal, and then he pins it on different players than those he had. Always an excuse.
Asked what is one reason for Toon supporters to be optimistic
“We’ve done okay, our performances have been decent. We’ve been disappointed that we’ve lost our three big players, we’re hoping, fingers crossed that after the int’l break ... that we can get the three players back, and I would give optimism with those three back in the team we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to pull (ourselves) out of trouble.”
- This is a wholly disconcerting answer. It’s like when a job interviewer asks you why you should have the job, and your answer is basically, “well, I’m surely not the worst you’ve interviewed, right?” And then, again, he’s gone back to the “big 3” ... Bruce has to lose the excuses and realize he’s got to get results with the squad he has. If we drop points before those three come back, it’s going to be far too late to survive.
Is there a feeling that this is a (relegation) fight
“We’ve understood that for a while now” ... “We’re not alone, all the other managers will be asked the same question” ... “Quite simple, we have to understand what’s before us and get enough points to make sure we stay here.”
- At some point he’s just repeating himself. Another worrying quote here is that ‘other managers’ will be asked this as well. He shouldn’t be worried about what questions Brighton’s manager is being asked. He should be focused on how he can get 3 points against Villa and get himself and his club out of this swamp at the bottom of the table.
Regarding previous NUFC relegations, when managers were sacked those years
(Visibly irritated) “You’ll have to ask Mike [Ashley] (about) that ... I’m only focused on one thing, do my job the best i can ... to make sure we stay here and we don’t have that fight”
Follow up, if they get through next 2-3 matches with results, will he be okay
“I’m the wrong one to ask” ... “I’m focused on tomorrow night, can we win, and then a huge game against Brighton” ... “(We’re) capable of winning the pair of them, we understand how difficult that is, because of the problems we’ve got...”
- This question should be appreciated by supporters because it’s a direct reference to how bad this season has turned. He says he is focused on these two upcoming matches and how they can win both of them, and he’s admitting they can. That should put the spotlight on how they play and the results, and no one should take kindly to Bruce saying anything about “encouraging takeaways” for anything less than 3 points.
On Elliot Anderson having a chance to play
“If I had to put him in, then I’d put him in ... he’s young and inexperienced” ... “(We have a) very, very good young player on our hands, but let’s not forget he’s only 18, 19, and the same goes for Matty Longstaff too, they’re both young in their development.” ... “...at the moment I need to draw on all the experienced ones that I can to handle the situation we’re in”
- This supports his rationale for starting Jonjo Shelvey and Jeff Hendrick despite either poor performances or maybe even simply seniority. Steve Bruce is more comfortable playing ‘his guys’; which happen to be veteran players that might not have the spark of an Anderson or Longstaff. Time will tell if that becomes his downfall.
Regarding his desire for Top 10, if he takes responsibility for predicament
“Of course, the buck stops with me, I understand that totally” ... “We finished 13 and we’d like to improve on what we accomplished last year” ... “...certainly when I analyze the season ... we were going along very very nicely until COVID hit, and then the injuries to big players has been a real big problem to handle...”
- This is what should once again infuriate NUFC supporters. It’s always an excuse with Steve Bruce. Coronavirus has affected every team in sports across the world; from actually contracting the virus, to having to adjust schedules and routines. It is unacceptable to blame the fact they’re a point above the relegation zone on something that happened three months ago. Additionally, the team wasn’t Top 10 prior to the COVID outbreak, so to say they were improving on 2019-20 isn’t true, either. A managers job is not to be present only when things are going perfect, but to manage through the ebbs and flows of a very long, grueling season. Thus far, Steve Bruce has shown his inability to do so.
- On a lighter note Bruce did confirm there is no new injury concerns. It is unclear if that is because of genuine health, or that there’s no one left to actually pick up an injury.