The frustrated rumblings at Newcastle United have been growing louder and louder in recent weeks as fans lose patience with a team who can’t seem to buy a goal, let alone a win at the moment.
As you may expect, the man taking the vast majority of the flack from the frustrated Geordies right now is Steve Bruce. He wasn’t an overly popular appointment, and a lot of fans think the current run of form justifies the level of disdain the supporters had towards him from the off.
Where has the form gone?
To be honest, I’m not sure it was ever there. Yes, they won a fair few matches in the first half of the season, but in the vast majority of those games, the performance was poor and they scraped through with a one goal win.
I’m struggling to remember many games in which Newcastle have gone out, played decent football for 90 minutes and gone home with all three points. There was the West Ham away game wherein they raced into a three goal lead, but even then the second half was poor and it finished 3-2.
Perhaps the two best examples of a solid performance are the Tottenham away game, wherein Joelinton scored his only Premier League goal to date in a 1-0 win. As well as that, the home win against Manchester United was a particular highlight! Manchester United never really threatened and local boy Matty Longstaff came up with the winner.
Outside of that, I’m running out of games wherein Newcastle have played well and taken a deserved three points. However, they were finding ways to win matches, so there’s plenty that can be said for the job Steve Bruce and his coaching staff did in the first half of the season – now though, those wins have dried up.
In their last nine matches, Newcastle have picked up just a single win, a 1-0 snatch and grab against Chelsea at home on January 18.
They have, however, managed to scrape through two FA Cup ties to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in the Mike Ashley era. A big achievement in itself for Bruce, even if both wins came courtesy of replays against League One opposition.
The most recent game, which saw United lose 1-0 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, was a damning indictment of the form Newcastle are in right now. It marked the third consecutive Premier League game wherein Newcastle failed to score. To be honest, they barely even threatened the Palace goal.
As a result of this wretched run, Newcastle fans and pundits alike have been speculating as to whether or not it may be time to switch formation. Bruce has been very outspoken about not being able to play in any other way than how he does with the team he has at his disposal – much to the annoyance of the fans.
The question was put to him again following the Palace game, and Bruce eventually admitted it may be time to change the tactics…
Despite Bruce once infamously declaring he “isn’t one for tactics”, they’ve been quite evident at Newcastle this season. Sit deep, defend in a low block, try and nick the odd goal on the counter and from set pieces.
Those tactics, while effective under former United boss Rafa Benitez, have never looked quite as assured under Steve Bruce. For some reason, the players don’t seem to have the same level of defensive stability and as such, they keep losing games.
Then, at the other end of the pitch, they’ve got two of their three attacking players currently playing out of position and don’t get anywhere near enough bodies forward to support Brazilian forward Joelinton. As such, the attacking Newcastle do is limited, and even when they do come forward, it looks awkward and totally ineffective.
Currently, Bruce has quite a lengthy injury list – one of whom is Jonjo Shelvey. The Englishman has been a new man since the arrival of Bruce and in my personal opinion, the team is seriously missing his creative presence in the midfield.
As well as Shelvey, Newcastle are currently not playing Isaac Hayden, although I can’t for the life of me work out why. He’s fit, he’s able and in my personal opinion, he’s Newcastle’s best defensive midfielder by a country mile.
Instead, the midfield pairing is Nabil Bentaleb and Sean Longstaff – one of whom is drastically out of form and the other has barely kicked a ball for nine months. While both are great players, neither the system or the timing is right for them in my honest opinion – ergo something needs to change.
This weekend, Newcastle host Burnley in the Premier League. If Bruce is to have any chance of getting the fans on side, I’d suggest he employs a back four and tries to find a way to work more bodies into the attack to support Joelinton, while making sure he avoids losing the creative influence of Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin.
If he does that, a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 seem the most likely scenarios, but I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing a good old flat 4-4-2 with Gayle alongside Joelinton in attack to run onto the knockdowns.
How close are we to the end of Bruce’s tenure at Newcastle?
I’d wager that we’re nowhere near the end of Steve Bruce on Tyneside. United are on a bad run of form, that’s for sure, but they still look likely to stay up this season. If they do manage to stay in the Premier League, the club will consider that a success and knowing Mike Ashley, probably reward Bruce with a 600 year contract.
However, this season, while not entirely a fluke, has been a struggle at times. I hate to say it but in my personal opinion, if Newcastle avoid the drop this season, they’ll be relegated to the Championship next season if Bruce remains in charge.
It seems as though all that’s happening right now is that they are delaying an inevitable third trip to the Championship in 12 years. Meanwhile, fans are hoping beyond all hope that a takeover materialises before that happens.
If United want to ensure Premier League survival next season and then push up the table, Bruce is quite clearly not the man to do it. My personal opinion is that Newcastle should wait until the end of the season, hopefully they’ll stay up (I think they will), and then sack Bruce.
It means they’ll have plenty of time to find a suitable replacement and it means the sacking won’t effect the morale within the squad midway through an important run of fixtures.
It’s the only logical way forward and for me, the only way in which Newcastle will be able to secure their long-term Premier League survival – provided they find the right replacement.