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‘Too early’ for Newcastle United to sack Steve Bruce, or should that be ‘too late’?

1 month ago
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Steve Bruce arrived at St James Park on 17 July 2019.

To say that he had it all to prove would be a massive understatement.

Mike Ashley forcing out a Champions League winning, double Europa League winning, double La Liga winning manager, then replacing him with a head coach who has won nothing as a manager and whose European management record was a single campaign at Hull that finished before the end of August.

Statistics flew about at the time, including the fact he had the worst Premier League record of any manager to take charge of so many (392) PL games.

This table below showed his record in PL management up to the end of the 2018/19 season, as compared to other recent Newcastle United managers / head coaches.

This below is the record of each manager across all clubs they had managed in the PL up to July 2019, showing average points per game, then average goals scored and average goals conceded per game:

As you can see, Steve Bruce was the very worst when it came to points and goals scored, averaging only 1.12 points per PL game, 1.03 goals per game, as well as conceding 1.31 goals per PL match.

After Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Brighton, Steve Bruce has taken charge so far of 40 PL games with Newcastle.

The averages for that 40 game spell are 1.17 points per game, 1.00 goals scored per game, 1.52 goals conceded per match.

Simply more of the same, most Newcastle fans could predict what would happen because this is who the manager Steve Bruce is. He has flitted between the bottom end of the Premier League and the Championship for some two decades and in recent seasons (before joining Newcastle), had become a regular in the second tier.

No other Premier League club would have taken on Steve Bruce in summer 2019, only one owned by Mike Ashley.

Since Steve Bruce arrived 14 months ago, Mike Ashley has allowed him a £100m net spend on players. In just over three years at the club, Rafa Benitez just about broke even, Ashley refusing to back him.

When with Sunderland a decade or so ago, Steve Bruce declared ‘I’m not really into tactics’…

His mates in the media have since then claimed Bruce was only joking when he said it but was he really?

Steve Bruce talking to Sky Sports after the 3-0 home loss to Brighton:

“We can talk about tactics and this and that and the other…

“Unfortunately, we just had a horrible awful start where we gave ourselves a mountain to climb after that.”

Sky Sports interviewer:

“No shots on target either today, what do you think the difference was from today to your last performance [won 2-0 at West Ham] in the Premier League?”

Steve Bruce:

“Well, I mean, as I said, I think we didn’t start the game and couldn’t get any kind of control of it at all.”

Steve Bruce does this so often when Newcastle have played poorly and lost, he makes out that it was nothing to do with him. As though he as manager / head coach had no way of influencing what happened. Either by what he could do ahead of a game, or during one.

Brighton going two goals up inside seven minutes was surely to a large degree to do with how he set the team up and who he selected. Then if you don’t want to accept that, you have to then surely say that in the following 83 minutes plus added time, he had plenty opportunity to change things for the better.

The truth is though, he and his coaching staff are what they are, struggling in the Premier League / in the Championship, they have no track record of success.

Interesting as well, when the Sky Sports interviewer questions what was the difference between the West Ham game and this Brighton one, in terms of shots on target. The question implying that whilst Newcastle didn’t have a single one on target against Brighton, the West Ham match was like the Alamo.

Steve Bruce didn’t have the honesty to say, well actually, Newcastle only had two shots on target at West Ham and scored with both of them.

Against Blackburn on Tuesday, it was only two shots on target, the Fraser goal and what was effectively a back pass by Joelinton.

Last game of last season, only two shots on target against Liverpool, the Gayle goal and one other.

The final away match last season at Brighton, only one shot on target.

This was very much the story of most of last season, incredible luck seeing Newcastle score as ‘many’ as 38 goals (22 years since NUFC scored less) from so few chances. The expected goals scored and conceded stats pointed to Newcastle should have been relegated last season beyond any doubt. Incredible luck from Steve Bruce and the presence of Martin Dubravka somehow seeing Newcastle to safety.

I find it interesting that Steve Bruce and the media will try and make out as though Newcastle’s superiority at West Ham, evened out Brighton’s today, but that is a complete joke.

At West Ham, Newcastle were marginally the better team but the Hammers still had more possession, more shots on target and more corners, as well as hitting the bar twice and wasting two other great chances.

Brighton on Sunday were totally dominant and just strolled through the second half after having the game won so early. They had more possession, more overall shots and six on target to Newcastle’s none, Brighton’s six shots on target is more than Newcastle have had in their past four games, over six hours of football, only five shots on target in those four games.

At home to Championship opposition on Tuesday, Newcastle only had 35% possession and Blackburn had more corners and shots on target as well. Only pure luck and poor finishing gave Newcastle the win.

As for tactics…it may not always work for other teams in terms of end product (goals) but you can clearly see what they are trying to do. Such as Brighton on Sunday, their neat clever football frequently cutting through Newcastle’s midfield and defence.

I still honestly can’t tell you what Steve Bruce’s plan was last season to try and score goals. Unless that is, you count giving the ball to ASM and hoping he does something, or getting far enough up the pitch to then boot the ball into the box and hope something happens.

This season, the early signs aren’t good. No wonder Steve Bruce kept Andy Carroll in the team on Sunday because that appears to be the only ‘plan’ this season, hit it up to Andy Carroll and hope something then happens on the back of that.

Thing is as well, Steve Bruce can hardly say that this isn’t his team now…

Newcastle United team v Brighton:

Darlow, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Lewis, Shelvey (Joelinton 72), Hayden, Hendrick, Saint-Maximin (Fraser 33), Wilson, Carroll (Almiron 45)

Unused Subs:

Gillespie, Ritchie, Krafth, Clark

If you look at the starting eleven, they are ‘all’ either players Steve Bruce has signed, or players who arrived before Rafa came in and who Steve Bruce decided to keep at the club. The three exceptions are Manquillo, Fernandez and Hayden who Benitez did sign BUT Bruce has given all these three new contracts, so they are all effectively Bruce’s choice of players now.

The main hope for me is that despite Steve Bruce, the players might still be good enough to avoid relegation. However, I do think it is very much in the balance.

The signing of Callum Wilson was a positive because he has got a record of scoring goals in the Premier League, even though only once has he ever scored more than eight in a PL season. Beyond Wilson though, who else could score goals?

Maybe with a better manager these same players could be organised into a team carrying far more goal threat, chances are though that we will never find out.

Steve Bruce is now on a run of only five wins in his last 22 Premier League matches but very difficult to imagine Mike Ashley sacking him, whatever the circumstances.

I see a season ahead that is pretty much guaranteed to be filled with game after game of Newcastle playing with so few ideas and the same ‘tactics’ used time after time no matter how ineffective they have been, Steve Bruce occasionally stumbling to a win and afterwards claiming that this was due to what they had been working on during the week. The question is though, how much luck will Bruce carry this time, will he manage enough lucky stumbles?

So my question is: ‘Too early for Newcastle United to sack Steve Bruce, or should that be ‘too late’?’

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