As the dust begins to settle after a tortuous weekend that left the Toon Army yearning for so much more, the footballing world appear to have finally found the hymn sheet from which all Newcastle fans have been singing, after witnessing peak Steve Bruce. The criticism has been far-reaching and hit utter condemnation at times. Yet seemingly, he is set to continue for the time being at least.
The word coming out of NUFC this morning is that Steve Bruce retains the club’s support.— Craig Hope (@CraigHope_DM) March 21, 2021
Newcastle had gone unbeaten in three consecutive games for the first time this season prior to the fixture and had shown flickers of fight and character in recent weeks after seeing off Southampton with nine-men and salvaging a draw against Villa with Lascelles’ last-minute header. As mentioned by Alex in his CHN preview of the game, the Seagulls have had the better of the Magpies in the Premier League era, having won 3, drawn 4 and lost 0 times. So when a side who put in a completely toothless performance against West Brom were still without their main attacking players being fit (sorry Miggy), and were coming up against a team they had scored only against once in the Premier League, the signs weren’t great.
Brighton 3-0 Newcastle
The weekend couldn’t have started any better mind. Newcastle announced the signing of 18-yr old England youth international Matty Bondswell and then in Friday night’s game, Leeds cruised to a 2-1 win over Fulham, ensuring that Newcastle would head into the international break above the relegation zone. A glimmer of hope. For a Newcastle win, would propel them above Brighton, towards Burnley & Southampton, but crucially open the gap above the relegation zone to 5 points, with a game in hand.
Saturday was met with a prolonged and somewhat agonising wait as kickoff had been pushed late, whilst the FA Cup quarter-finals took the prime tv scheduling spots. The agony foretold what was to come. But in stark contrast to enduring a painful wait was the rapidness in which all hope faded, almost immediately after Fraser got the game underway.
Within 3 minutes Brighton’s left wing-back, on debut, had two great chances to open the scoring after splitting the NUFC defence but fortunately failed to find a finish. The first 10 minutes flashed by, with Newcastle hardly touching the ball: Brighton had 79% to Newcastle’s 21% at the 10-minute mark. Those in black and white looked like a team that would have had more joy chasing their shadows around the Amex Stadium for 90 minutes than trying to play football.
The first quarter of the match was as one sided as a game could have been. Newcastle’s front three were completely absent, the midfield was overrun and the defence were being dragged from side to side by Welbeck and Maupay and then cut open through the middle by Trossard. In fact, at 25 minutes into the game, such was Newcastle’s ineffectiveness and inability to get a handle on the game, Dubravka had had the highest number of touches of all Newcastle players, with 12.
Heading towards the end of the first half, it was a miracle Newcastle weren’t behind. But, as so happens to be the case this season more than ever, a side carrying injuries ust seem to keep picking them up. So as fans look forward to the attacking potential when Saint-Maximin, Wilson and a fully fit Almiron return, another injury rocked the side, more defensively this time. Isaac Hayden collided with Bissouma in the 40th minute and appeared to be in trouble immediately. Stretchered off, Newcastle confirmed the worst fears on Tuesday, that “following a significant knee injury” Hayden will miss the remainder of the season. Hayden has been one of few players to stand out this season and will be sorely missed for his versatility and defensive soundness.
To ensure the Mags knew what they were missing, two minutes later Brighton got their first, from an area so often mopped up by Hayden. Manquillo allowed Trossard inside, but as Newcastle’s midfielders backed away, he hit a great curling effort inside the far post, with Dubravka helpless. With that the Seagulls took a 1-0 lead into the break.
Newcastle’s only real chance of any kind all game came with a nice bit of link up play between the front three that ASM, Wilson & Miggy would have been proud of. Joelinton picked up the ball and played it to Almiron in the centre of the pitch, about 30 yards out who swiftly turned, beat his man and picked out Fraser on the left-hand side of the box who hit a first time curling effort, beating the sprawling Sanchez in goal, and cannoning off of the post.
But that was it. The only decent opportunity for the Toon Army and the only thing to cheer. Brighton were 2 up five minutes later with a near carbon copy of their first goal. This time, however, it was Danny Welbeck who drifted in from the left, given too much space again by Manquillo and not closed down by a central midfielder or defender and struck a powerful curving shot across Dubravka’s goal.
Once again Jacob Murphy was given a cameo appearance after impressing of late, but in replacing Willock and Hendrick having replaced the injured Hayden, Murphy found himself in a deeper role than he is used to and suited to. It’s not a surprise that Bruce fielded a player out of position nor that he didn’t opt for a change of formation at any point to combat Brighton’s style of play. But after Brighton scored their third goal, a fine team goal finished on the volley by Maupay, his decision to change out Almiron for a defensive midfielder in Sean Longstaff was truly baffling.
Fans of the Magpies haven’t exactly been quiet in their assessment and beliefs in Bruce’s capabilities, or lack thereof, as manager of Newcastle United. Ok, that was potentially the understatement of all understatements. But almost as well documented as the disdain that NUFC fans have for Bruce, is the fact that the man has a great deal of admirers within the football world. The likes of Robbie Savage, Jamie Carragher, Paul Merson, as well as a certain Alan Shearer have provided stand-up character references for the man who, by the sounds of things, is probably a decent bloke. At least to have a pint with... Maybe?
But the man cannot manage a football team. Certainly at least, not this football team. And for once, fans were able to revel in the fact that the footballing world had no option of turning a blind eye and would have to agree with them after a downright pathetic performance.
“The buck stops with him, guaranteed”.
"They went down without a fight."— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) March 21, 2021
"I wouldn't be confident about them winning another game."
Graeme Souness provided an honest assessment on another desperately disappointing performance from #NUFC last night...
"I don't see any reaction!"— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) March 21, 2021
Newcastle suffered a disastrous 3-0 defeat to fellow relegation candidates Brighton last night, Didier Domi & @NDJ_Official think that drastic action is needed to save Newcastle's season! #beINPL #BHANEW
Watch Now - https://t.co/RRmQgctETJ pic.twitter.com/gllTG9DYfc
Ok Newcastle fans please don’t hammer me. But NOW I think I understand!— Jeff Stelling (@JeffStelling) March 20, 2021
️ @RobbieSavage8: "I can’t defend that performance - Steve Bruce is in a very difficult situation now - they were shocking."— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) March 21, 2021
️ @chris_sutton73: "I think it's sad the way it's all panned out."
️ #NUFC fan: "There's no passion, there's no desire, there's no ambition."#BBC606 pic.twitter.com/m2JZGfELfh
❌ “The problem there is unity... players aren’t playing for Steve.”— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) March 23, 2021
“If I was Bruce I’d have to resign, it cannot be good for him.”
“Steve Bruce has done an OK job but the fans have a problem.”
Darren Bent thinks it may be best for Steve Bruce to leave #NUFC ⚪️⚫️ pic.twitter.com/fnrNIDDY9l
Bruce’s side were completely ineffective. The tactics were absent, his reaction to Brighton’s dominance was non-existent and the line-up and substitutions left a heck of a lot to be desired. But in playing devil’s advocate to shift just the smallest of blames away from Bruce, what were the players doing?
“Every game is massive now, it’s like a cup final and that’s the attitude we need to have every game.” - Jamaal Lascelles after Aston Villa game
Maybe that’s why Newcastle haven’t won a major trophy since 1969; the Championship and Intertoto Cup aside. Not once, in my 20odd years as a Newcastle fan can I remember seeing a Newcastle side get so utterly dominated, especially by a team in the bottom five. It was men against boys. We made Brighton look like Brazil of the late 90s/early 2000’s. But worse than that, the lads in Black & White looked devoid of confidence, devoid of ideas and devoid of any passion whatsoever.
Another performance where Shelvey meandered around the center of the pitch, unable to make any impact. Another performance where Lascelles was the only player who seemed to be shouting instructions and encouragement. Another performance where the likes of Fraser and Joelinton throw their hands in the air when the ball isn’t played to them, rather than chasing to win it back.
The attitude right now is dire.
Yes, there are injuries to big players. Yes, the position is precarious and the form is awful. Yes, the manager has as many man-management skills as a snake has legs. Yes, the owner appears to be doing nothing to rectify the state of the club. But that shouldn’t stop any footballer from giving his all. They don’t want to play for Bruce anymore? Fine. But put in a shift for the fans, the club, and for the right to continue playing Premier League football.
A lot has been spoken recently of the need for leaders to emerge in the dressing room. A dressing room where inside information is leaked on the regular, and where it appears player discontent towards management is well versed. Bruce publicly stated he needed players with experience in the run-in, but what good is experience if those players aren’t also willing to put in the hard graft?
One of the only things that brought me joy in the immediate aftermath of the game was Andy Carroll & Dwight Gayle’s reactions. The pair of them stormed off down the tunnel, undoubtedly - and justifiably - aggrieved at not being given a chance to help the side out. When you’ve got a manager who when 1-0 down brings on Jeff “I should be playing League One” Hendrick and when 3-0 down - THREE NIL DOWN - takes off Almiron for a defensive midfielder in Sean Longstaff, then the strikers should be asking questions and demanding why they weren’t out there.
That fire, the likes of which Matt Ritchie has shown with his bust-up is what - if anything - will keep Newcastle up. And if those experienced players that Bruce is hoping will save his bacon aren’t up for the fight, then turn to the youngsters and the fringe players, because nothing, I repeat, nothing could be as bad as that performance.
Eyes will glance away from the club for the next fortnight, whilst the 2022 World Cup qualifiers (and some needless friendlies) take place. But the focus on Newcastle, especially from the fans, will be constant. It’s a shame that Bruce and his merry men have decided to only work for three of the next nine days….but that’s another discussion entirely.
Exclusive: Steve Bruce schedules SIX days off from nine for NUFC squad despite Brighton surrender. Players no longer surprised by such plans but some are shocked Bruce hasn't been sacked. Those inside club are aware a section of dressing-room want change. https://t.co/73b5ELN33J— Craig Hope (@CraigHope_DM) March 22, 2021