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Sky Sports make spirited defence of Steve Bruce but should have checked their facts

1 month ago
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Sky Sports have given an overview of the season so far for Steve Bruce and Newcastle United.

Five games in and less than three months since finishing 13th in the 2019/20 Premier League season, Newcastle United now find themselves 13th in the Premier League.

A crushing defeat to Manchester United on Saturday night despite the early second minute gifted lead.

Last season, Newcastle fans felt that the 13th place and 44 points total was massively down to two things, heroics from Martin Dubravka in the vast majority of matches, plus massive amounts of luck coming Bruce’s way. The overwhelming feeling of the supporters was that Steve Bruce was clueless with his boring tactics, the ‘strategy’ to defend with the whole team as close to their own goal as possible and then the only attacking ‘plan’ to give the ball to Allan Saint-Maximin and hope he does something.

This season, Newcastle fans feel that the 13th place and seven points total is massively down to two things, heroics from Karl Darlow in the vast majority of matches, plus massive amounts of luck coming Bruce’s way. The overwhelming feeling of the supporters is that Steve Bruce is clueless with his boring tactics, the ‘strategy’ to defend with the whole team as close to their own goal as possible and then the only attacking ‘plan’ to give the ball to Allan Saint-Maximin and hope he does something.

Steve Bruce claims he is changing things and just needs more time.

For the fans, it is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

That under Steve Bruce, it doesn’t matter how much money is spent (£100m net spend in Bruce’s 15 months so far) or how many players are brought in, if the person at the top isn’t up to the job, then there is all but zero chance of progress.

To nobody’s great surprise, many outsiders see it differently, especially in the media.

Keith Downie covers Newcastle United for Sky Sports and after the 4-1 hammering by Man Utd, has considered what has happened so far.

The Sky Sports man declaring:

“If you spoke to most Newcastle United supporters right now, I don’t think they would describe it as an early season run of form. I think it’s fair to say the majority of them are a little bit frustrated at the start. Yes they’re content with the points on the table – seven from a possible 15 is fairly solid start – but I don’t think they’re quite as happy with the product they are seeing.”

I think that is a pretty fair summary, however, we then get to the BUT…

“From the outside looking in, I think most people would see Steve Bruce should be given credit, but it’s a difficult situation at Newcastle at the moment. I think Bruce wasn’t really favoured by supporters at the start, so they’re kind of looking for a stick to hit him with.”

I don’t know exactly what Steve Bruce deserves credit for?

After 15 months and a £100m net spend allowed, we are simply seeing the exact same tactics and no credible plan / tactics whatsoever.

Never mind the blow he took from Rashford, Karl Darlow must be shellshocked after facing considerably more shots than any other keeper in the Premier League. Bruce’s tactics allowed a very poor to average Man Utd team to totally dominate and have more shots on target in a PL away match since 2015. Newcastle / Darlow facing more shots in that game than any other team / keeper has this season in the top tier.

Newcastle fans aren’t fooled, they know what they see with their eyes.

The point at Tottenham was an unbelievable fluke.

At West Ham, Newcastle scored with their only two efforts on target, whilst the Hammers hit the bar and had more possession, shots on target and corners.

Against Burnley, the 3-1 scoreline looked comfortable in the end but it only came courtesy of ASM scoring a goal out of nothing to take the lead, then after Burnley equalised and Newcastle had totally lost their way, ASM created a chance from nothing and Wilson couldn’t miss an open goal from a few yards out.

Brighton hammered Newcastle both in terms of goals and all round stats, Man Utd did the same.

Keith Downie brings the Carabao Cup into it and of course the facts say that Newcastle are thankfully into the quarter-finals.

However, the draws have been unbelievably lucky, with a Championship team at home and then two League two teams away.

Despite that, Blackburn totally dominated with 65% possession at St James Park and had far more chances, Newcastle scoring with their only serious shot on target.

Then at Newport, Newcastle trailed for almost the entire game and then got an equaliser only a few minutes from the end after a really poor performance and then got lucky in the penalty shootout after Joelinton saw his spot-kick saved.

All of last season’s worries are still there and the Steve Bruce tactics are looking ever more woeful.

We also had the bizarre sight of Karl Darlow getting that serious knock on Saturday and he was struggling to move around, yet Steve Bruce kept him on the pitch for another half hour, right to the end of the match.

Alarm bells very much ringing if it ends up keeping Darlow on the pitch is out for any length of time, after he single-handedly has prevented some real hammerings.

The thing is, with the League (Carabao) Cup, Keith Downie hasn’t really checked his facts, declaring:

“They’re in the last eight of the Carabao Cup, and they’ve got a chance. In fairness to Steve Bruce, he has come in and picked strong teams. And that is something that could not have been levelled by Rafa Benitez or Alan Pardew.”

So has Steve Bruce really picked ‘strong teams’, his best players available?

In the second round against Blackburn, when Newcastle fluked the 1-0 win, Steve Bruce made 10 changes to his first choice Premier League team.

In the third round against Morecambe, Steve Bruce made nine changes to his first choice PL team.

Then the fourth round at Newport it was seven changes as the Bruce luck saved him yet again.

Back in 2016, Rafa Benitez went on a bit of a League Cup run…

In the second round he made eight changes to his first choice Championship team as Newcastle beat Cheltenham 2-0.

In the third round he made eight changes as Newcastle beat Wolves 2-0.

Then fourth round it was seven changes as Preston were defeated 6-0.

Contrary to what the Sky Sports man says, for the fifth round this is what happened.

Newcastle had Blackburn at home on the Saturday in the Championship, then Hull away in the League Cup quarters, before Forest away on the Friday in the league.

Rafa actually played a weakened side in the Blackburn game so that he could play a stronger one in the Cup!

The likes of Gayle and Lascelles rested so they could play Hull.

Looking at it the other way round, the team that lost on penalties at Hull in the League Cup on the Tuesday, seven of those players then started against Forest on the Friday.

Rafa Benitez risked the Championship matches to give the League Cup his best shot, once they had got to that quarter-final stage. Pretty brave really when you remember how much pressure there was to get promotion immediately.

The move backfired as Blackburn fluked a 1-0 win at St James Park as they scored with their only shot on target, then the Forest game was an infamous 2-1 defeat where an atrocious referee called Steve Martin (comedian jokes etc etc) sent Dummett and Shelvey off in the first half with laughable decisions. Both red cards were quashed on appeal.

In the Hull quarter-final, Rafa was equally unlucky, his team dominated and had 32 shots, eventually took the lead in extra time, only for Sels to make an embarrassing mistake to gift an equaliser and ensure penalties.

The only reason you can claim Steve Bruce is playing ‘strong teams’ is because a £100m net spend and not being forced to sell to buy as Rafa was, simply means that Newcastle now have a far stronger looking reserve team. Capable of fluking it against Blackburn and Newport…

Last season saw Steve Bruce play a weakened team (seven changes) and lose to a Leicester side at St James Park, the Foxes playing a full strength team.

As for the FA Cup, Rafa was fighting two relegation battles in his Premier League seasons, Mike Ashley giving him a minimal net spend in summer 2017 and then forcing the manager to make a £20m profit on transfers in summer 2018. To make any attempt on the FA Cup in the middle of relegation battles and with such a small squad of reliable / semi-reliable players, mainly his Championship team / squad, would have been a huge gamble. It was Mike Ashley who prevented Newcastle having a go at the FA Cup, not Rafa Benitez.

As well as the financial backing from Ashley, Steve Bruce also experienced such a lucky run of draws (sounds familiar) against a Championship team (West Brom made 10 changes as concentrating on promotion) and two League One teams (replays needed in both).

Then when meeting a PL team in the FA Cup quarter-final, Steve Bruce bizarrely prioritised meaningless PL matches, playing his strongest starting eleven against Sheffield United (21 June 2020) and Villa (24 June), then a weakened team against Man City, with four changes including leaving out Dubravka and Shelvey. The tactics seeing Newcastle never even trying to seriously attack, even when 2-0 down.

Keith Downie of Sky Sports:

“If you spoke to most Newcastle United supporters right now, I don’t think they would describe it as an early season run of form.

“I think it’s fair to say the majority of them are a little bit frustrated at the start. Yes they’re content with the points on the table – seven from a possible 15 is fairly solid start – but I don’t think they’re quite as happy with the product they are seeing.

“They’re in the last eight of the Carabao Cup, and they’ve got a chance.

“In fairness to Steve Bruce, he has come in and picked strong teams.

“And that is something that could not have been levelled by Rafa Benitez or Alan Pardew.

“Steve Bruce has said it’s one of his aims to bring silverware to the club, and he has picked strong teams.

“From the outside looking in, I think most people would see Steve Bruce should be given credit, but it’s a difficult situation at Newcastle at the moment. I think Bruce wasn’t really favoured by supporters at the start, so they’re kind of looking for a stick to hit him with.

“If you’re asking me I think the manager has stabilised it, but I think at present it really needs to step on and things have plateaued a bit.”

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