It's time for Steve Bruce to do the right thing at Newcastle United
What. A. Mess.
With nine games left to play, Newcastle United’s Premier League status, yet again, is on the line.
This wasn’t in the brochure, whatever misgivings supporters still had at the start of the behind-closed-doors campaign.
The club has won just two of its last 20 games in all competitions, but Steve Bruce retains the backing of Mike Ashley.
Bruce, however, doesn’t have the backing of United’s fanbase, and his position became untenable following Saturday night’s shocking 3-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion.
Admittedly, there is no longer enough time for any meaningful managerial change, but change is better than no change.
Bruce, in the view of supporters, is part of the problem – and not part of the solution.
Another relegation would be catastrophic, and few on Tyneside believe that the team, under Ashley’s ownership and Bruce’s management, would return to the Premier League at the first attempt in the event of relegation.
Still, the club’s fate remains in its own hands – just.
Newcastle are two points above third-bottom Fulham with a game in hand ahead of the April 4 home game against Tottenham Hotspur, whose manager, Jose Mourinho, is the second-favourite to be the next top-flight manager to leave his post behind Bruce.
Bruce reiterated that he wouldn’t “walk away” from the job at the Amex Stadium amid calls from fans for him to go.
“I’ve never thought of myself when managing,” said Bruce. “I’m not one, because it’s tough, to walk away from it. It’s not in my nature. So I will never walk away from it because it’s too tough. The easy thing would be to say ‘oh, yes – I’m feeling desperately low (and walk away)’.
“I will accept the responsibility, because it rightly rests at my door. Today simply we weren’t good enough, and that’s the frustration.”
However, Bruce – who pledged to “take the club forward” after succeeding Rafa Benitez at St James’s Park in the summer of 2019 – must know that he has taken United backwards this season.
Yes, injuries and a Covid-19 outbreak have affected the team this season, but those factors alone don’t account for the club’s position.
The club didn’t have a settled formation or way or playing, let alone an identity, until the arrival of Graeme Jones in late January.
Jones’s system brought about an improvement in performances – and two wins – but it proved too inflexible after Bruce lost Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin to injuries.
Fans, for example, were baffled to see Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll left on the bench against Brighton.
The club’s hopes of staying up now seem to rest on a successful return for Wilson, who could be available for the Tottenham game.
Wilson’s return will help, but there are problems on and off the pitch at the club. There are seemingly too many coaches – and too many unhappy players. Crucially, there's now too little time to address these problems.
There needs to be a change, but Ashley, we know, won’t act.
This isn’t now about Bruce's pride. This is about the future of the club he supported growing up in Wallsend.
And it’s time for Bruce to do the right thing – and put the club first.