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Steve Bruce now faces biggest dilemma since arriving at Newcastle United 21 months ago

3 months ago

Steve Bruce will be having sleepless nights this week.

The Newcastle United Head Coach now facing arguably his biggest decision since he arrived at St James Park.

In fact, Steve Bruce is facing any number of key decisions in the next 72 hours…

At 1.05pm on Sunday, Bruce picked the following eleven players to play against Tottenham:

Dubravka, Murphy, Krafth, Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Gayle, Joelinton

Fair to say that nobody, not one Newcastle fan, would have predicted that line-up.

Maybe not even Steve Bruce, until he picked the names out of a hat at 1.04pm…

Anyway, all turned out fine, many people, including Steve Bruce, thinking Sunday’s performance was possibly the best of the season, especially as out of nowhere, Newcastle suddenly had 17 shots from inside the box, a season’s best by some considerable distance.

Remember, this is a team under Steve Bruce, where the usual ultra negative tactics have led to not even a single shot on target in a handful of Premier League matches since he arrived 21 months ago. Whilst the usual we have come to expect, is only a couple of efforts on target per game on average, with not a lot more off target either.

The only negative on Sunday was that Newcastle didn’t get more goals and points, which their performance probably deserved, in an open match with chances at both ends.

After the final whistle, nobody was probably more surprised than Steve Bruce at how well it had gone.

He had thrown the cards in the air and luck had been on his side, changing half the outfield players had helped bring about much improvement.

After the game the NUFC Head Coach revelled in it, explaining exactly why he’d made so many changes, many of them baffling, considering what had gone before. Leaving out some of Newcastle’s best performers in recent times, choosing others who he has pretty much ignored totally for months.

Steve Bruce claimed the key to his selection was that he hadn’t wanted to pick a team of players who had ‘travelled halfway around the World’…

This didn’t make total sense as nobody had actually travelled ‘halfway around the World’, as Almiron had seen his games in South America called off, nor do we have anybody playing down towards Australia.

Indeed, Martin Dubravka arguably had the most stressful international time, travelling to Slovakia and Cyprus, suffering from a stomach bug, then rushing back to be there at the birth of his first child on the Thursday before the Spurs game.

However, the goalkeeper was still selected despite being with the rest of the NUFC squad for hardly no time in the build up to Tottenham.

Whilst Manquillo who had been on Tyneside for the duration was dropped and Emil Krafth, who had travelled to Kosovo and Sweden AND played a full 90 minutes for his national side on the Wednesday night, did start.

To further cloud matters, there was no sign in the matchday squad at all when it came to Carroll, Fraser and Fernandez, with much speculation that this was a result of falling out with the NUFC Head Coach. Steve Bruce dismissed this afterwards, saying all three had picked up knocks / injuries that ruled them out.

So anyway, fast forwarding to this coming Sunday, Steve Bruce will be looking at his cards once again and everywhere he looks it will be a case of stick or twist?

The performance and result against Spurs was achieved with the assistance of players such as Krafth, Murphy, Ritchie, Gayle and Sean Longstaff, who all came into the team unexpectedly.

Steve Bruce will almost certainly have Allan Saint-Maximin fully fit and available, whilst there is a good chance Callum Wilson may also be. Will Bruce really leave this pair out and instead rely on those who helped create that Tottenham performance.

The same with other regular and reliable stalwarts such as Willock, Clark and Manquillo, will Steve Bruce once again bench them?

Burnley obviously play very different to Tottenham, with long balls up to their big forwards and getting it wide to provide the crosses, can Steve Bruce really leave out Fernandez if he has recovered from his knock?

Will the Head Coach keep the back five system that was used on Sunday, or revert to a back four? If so, it means almost certainly for example that Murphy, one of Newcastle’s best players against Spurs, can’t stay in the team. Only at wing-back has he really looked a Premier League player, not right-back or on the wing.

Ryan Fraser scored two in two starts for Scotland and will be full of confidence, another possibility to consider as a starter.

Also, Steve Bruce will have a headache that none of the rest of us have, how to fit in his favourite, Jeff Hendrick!

The thing is, whenever Steve Bruce has hit lucky and produced a Premier League win this season, he has struggled to follow it up. On six occasions losing the next game and invariably also playing really poorly, whilst the exception was beating West Brom 2-1 after the 2-0 win at Palace BUT that victory over the Baggies came about despite a really poor performance.

As if his thoughts couldn’t be more pressurised, they could go up any number of notches tomorrow night, imagine Steve Bruce deciding what team to play Burnley if Fulham beat Wolves at home on Friday?

Newcastle in the bottom three and Steve Bruce knowing he has to get it right against Burnley, or else relegation will look an all too real likelihood.

A noon kick-off on Sunday, so at 11am it will be absolutely intriguing to find out what Steve Bruce has done with his team selection, especially if Fulham have found that elusive win to take them above NUFC in the meantime.


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