Is Steve Bruce safe at Newcastle United and is takeover progress on hold? Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy tackle the key black and white issues
The Magpies seem to lurch from one disaster to the next at present. From Steve Bruce training ground fall-outs, to press conference gaffs, player issues, awful performances and takeover controversies – there’s never a dull moment on Tyneside.
Here our Newcastle United writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy tackle the key black and white issues as the Magpies head into their ‘must win’ West Brom relegation scrap on Sunday...
Is off-field stuff, such as takeover talk, on hold at Newcastle United until Premier League status is determined?
MS: “No. The arbitration process is still ongoing, and could drag out for some time yet. It’s not a quick process. All parties are still working towards a resolution. This is all being handled well away from St James’s Park, so it shouldn’t be a distraction. Maybe recent results, and the club’s Premier League position, has concentrated minds inside St James’s Park.”
LK: “Not to my knowledge. Although the situation off the field is a whole lot more complicated than many hoped. And, of course, performances on the park are intrinsically linked to things off it, such as the value of the football club, etc.”
Do you believe Newcastle United will stay up this season?
MS: “Up to now, I’ve had confidence that this team has enough about it to stay up. After all, we know there’s enough quality in the squad to push for a top-10 place. That said, the injuries to Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron, as well as recent results and Fulham’s revival, have shaken that belief.”
LK: “At this stage I rate Newcastle as a 50/50 to stay up. This campaign has so many parallels with previous relegation seasons – the only thing obviously missing is the managerial change. That may yet come, if improvement continues to elude United. The next few weeks looked crucial to defining the season before the injuries – I think the Magpies just need to take what they can get from this run and hope for a bump in performance when their key trio return to the fold. Saying that, even when all three have been fit, United have hardly been worldbeaters. In fact, they’ve been pretty awful in large spells. Those injuries, however, could not have come at a worse time.”
Will Steve Bruce see out the season at Newcastle, or do you think the club might make a change?
MS: “A managerial change hasn’t been on the agenda up to now. That position could yet change with results, and revelations of a row with Matt Ritchie are damaging, but the club’s roll of the dice was seemingly the appointment of Graeme Jones as Bruce’s assistant. Performances have improved - and the club has won twice since his appointment - but the club is still deep in trouble. Bruce got the club into the mess, though the Covid-19 outbreak didn’t help, and there still seems to be a belief that he, helped by Jones, can get the team out of it. That said, surely Bruce cannot continue if he has lost the dressing room."
LK: “His position has always been safe – and I suspect it would take an absolute disaster for that to change. Thing is, United are on the cusp of falling off the cliff. If Fulham win tonight and Newcastle drop into the bottom three it could bring a refocus of the minds within the Magpies’ hierarchy, and if a loss comes on Sunday then you’d have to think the exit door would be ajar. This is Newcastle, however, and second guessing this football club is absolutely impossible. Truth is, many would have pushed Bruce out the door in the aftermath of Sheffield United and Aston Villa, both of which were an embarrassment to the football club.”
How many points do you think it will take for a team to avoid the drop?
MS: “Good question. Aston Villa stayed up with 35 points last season, but Newcastle may not feel that’ll be enough this season. The number required could be closer to 40.”
LK: “I still have a feeling it will not be a million miles away from the 34/35 mark to stay up. Plenty of points will be dropped by the sides at the bottom between now and the end of the season.”
Who replaces Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin in United's starting XI?
MS: “I think Ryan Fraser has to come into the team to replace Saint-Maximin, and, for me, two strong contenders for the No.10 role are Sean Longstaff and Elliot Anderson.
LK: “I think Joelinton and Fraser will be two of the front three, which leaves one spot with Jacob Murphy and Dwight Gayle fighting it out. I’d opt for Gayle because he can score goals, despite the fact he has cut a frustrated figure having also been alienated by Bruce. I think Andy Carroll has to come into the conversation, too.”
Result and score prediction for West Brom (a) on Sunday...
MS: “This looks to be a tough, tough game. Sam Allardyce will have West Brom well organised, and I fear that United, without the three of their best players, will not take all three points. I’m going for 1-1, though hopefully Newcastle will get a better result.”
LK: “I was favouring a 1-1 like Miles until the proverbial inevitably hit the fan this week. In light of recent events I think Sam Allardyce will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing a fractured Newcastle United. Sadly, I’m going 1-0 to the Baggies and yet more woe on Tyneside.”