Bruce didn’t get the result he wanted against Leeds United tonight – his team lost 2-1 – but, for 45 minutes, fans saw a glimpse of a Newcastle United they haven’t seen for some time.
That was in large part down to Allan Saint-Maximin, who came off the bench and took them much higher up the pitch.
Leeds – who had been so good on the ball themselves in the final third before the break – were put firmly on the back foot by his introduction.
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Saint-Maximin, cheekily dubbed “the saviour” by Dwight Gayle on camera as the winger was interviewed this week, caused no end of problems for a team which had looked comfortable in the first half.
Still, a defeat’s a defeat, and 16th-placed Newcastle, without a win in 11 games, are worryingly close to the relegation zone.
Bruce made two changes. Ryan Fraser and Jacob Murphy were recalled to the starting XI, and Jonjo Shelvey and Jeff Hendrick continued in midfield. Fraser was fielded behind Callum Wilson, who hadn’t scored for more than a month.
Above all else, Bruce needed a reaction from his players after a fractious few days on Tyneside. Newcastle’s head coach – who had opened himself up for more criticism by refusing to speak to the written media before the game – needed his players to back him on the pitch.
That reaction would come in the second half as his team chased the game.
Newcastle were overrun in midfield from early in the game, and Leeds got themselves ahead in the 17th minute through Raphinha after Murphy gave the ball away.
The visitors were relentless. They were sharp and incisive. Newcastle, by contrast, struggled to string two passes together.
They came into the game a bit more late in the half – Fraser, in particular, was a threat when he moved to the left – but they were too careless with the ball.
Leeds attacks became more sporadic towards the break, but they were no less dangerous, and Newcastle looked vulnerable every time Marcelo Bielsa’s side got close to the box.
Bruce’s side, unchanged for the second half, pressed on after the restart – and they got their rewards in the 57th minute.
Jamaal Lascelles won the ball, and a quick move saw Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson combine to set up Miguel Almiron, who skipped into the box and beat Illan Meslier with a left-footed shot. The strike was the club’s first in 455 minutes in all competitions.
Newcastle, however, were behind again four minutes later. Raphinha found Jack Harrison in space to the left of goal, and the winger beat Karl Darlow with a shot into the far corner of the net.
Bruce’s side played with some welcome urgency after conceding the second goal, and they were helped by Saint-Maximin, who energised Newcastle.
The winger, making only his second appearance after a long spell out with Covid-19, took the game to Leeds, but he couldn’t force a second breakthrough, and Bruce’s side were left to rue the defensive errors which led to Leeds’ two goals.