Graeme Jones' impact, Premier League stagnation & Newcastle United's transfer priorities – Q&A with Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin
Can you make a case for progress at Newcastle United this season and has Steve Bruce’s stock risen due to the team’s end of campaign exploits?
We asked our Newcastle United writers Liam Kennedy and Jordan Cronin to tackle the Toon Trending Topics this week, with Bruce, newly called up England coach Graeme Jones, transfer priorities and the season that was still very much on the agenda.
Was 2020/21 a season of success, regression or stagnation?
LK: “Stagnation. It’s a term we know so well at Newcastle United and everyone is extra desperate to bin. One point and one place does not represent real progress. Not near £40m investment level of progress, as per the money the spent last summer.”
JC: “To sum up a bizarre final few weeks, it has quickly gone from nothing more than a regressive season to another of stagnation. It’s been progressive in terms of point(s) and finishing one place higher but success? Far from it. Top 10 was a realistic target for this group of players, not a relegation battle. In fact, that shouldn’t have been on the cards. And let’s not forget they blew the chance to reach a cup semi-final by losing to a second string Brentford side as well.”
Has Steve Bruce's stock risen with the Magpies' end to the season?
LK: “Yes, I suppose you could say it has. And by no means do I think Bruce is the answer at Newcastle United. But he is certainly a much better spot than he was in only as far back as early April. I think the head coach will have to overachieve with the players he has next season to even get close to convincing many Newcastle fans, due in no small part to his disparaging public comments aimed in their direction. But, keep up the end of season form and performances and brighter times may lie ahead. However, as has been written elsewhere, Bruce needs to bin the humble pie talk and become a whole lot more humble. This bravado rubbish just isn’t palatable for United fans.”
JC: “That depends on who you ask. If you’re asking the supporters then no, it’s a broken relationship and it's hard to imagine how it will ever be repaired. Bruce deserves some credit for putting out the fire he started but even a strong end to the season hasn’t erased fans' fears over what next term might hold. What it has done though is strengthened Mike Ashley’s hand not to sack him.”
With five months now to judge it, how much of an impact do you believe Graeme Jones had on results and performances?
LK: “Massive, for me. United look to have a whole host more facets to their play since Jones arrived. And you could say that is down to Bruce, there is no absolute proof it isn’t, but if that were the case, why didn’t he transform United sooner? I am hoping Newcastle will be a lot better prepared for next season, whatever happens transfer-wise in the summer, for having Jones around. United have an identity and way of playing, something they’ve lacked for the majority of Bruce’s reign.”
JC: “He’s had a massive impact. In the latter months of the campaign, you saw a group of players who were being coached better - it’s no coincidence. The system changes have worked, OK it was a bit patchy in the middle when ASM and Wilson were out injured, but finally, for the first time under Bruce, Newcastle have an identity and a way of playing. And if anyone doubts the role Jones has played in keeping United in the Premier League then go and ask Gareth Southgate about him.”
Is United's squad in need of a rebuild or just some clever tweaking?
LK: “Probably a rebuild in some ways but a rebuild will just not be possible this summer due to budgetary constraints. There is some quality in there, particularly in the forward areas but not anywhere near enough depth. That is something which can be addressed in the window – and really must be a priority. United need to hope they can find some kind of back up to Callum Wilson because without him they look like relegation candidates. With his goals you really feel they can kick on.”
JC: “It needs Joe Willock. If it has Willock in it then the team instantly becomes better. If not him, then Bruce needs to try and bring in someone similar. The squad has shown what it is capable of over the final nine games - it’s the head coach which remains the concern.”
Which area of the pitch should take priority for Bruce & Co when it comes to signings in the transfer window?
LK: “Centre-half and central midfield. United need to add at least one player in both positions. A Matt Ritchie replacement is likely to be needed as will a stand in for Wilson. Those four would be a start, moving forward.”
JC: “Definitely needs a midfielder with pace and energy to burn. The centre of defence is in need of a body or two, depending on what happens with Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar. The striking department must be addressed because as great as Callum Wilson is, it’s unlikely he’ll play every game. Being without him, as shown in parts this season, is a worry and a risk Newcastle can’t afford to take again.”