Liam Kennedy's FIVE-point plan to safety for Steve Bruce at Newcastle United – including resignation
Newcastle United are hurtling towards Premier League relegation at an alarming rate, with their pedal fixed to the metal since December last year.
Still though, somehow, the Magpies find themselves in absolute control of their own destiny.
United sit two points above 18th-placed Fulham, the only side who can conceivably catch them in this race to the bottom. And, with a game in hand on their rivals, remain reasonably well-placed to retain their Premier League status, needing only to match their tally from the last nine games – nine points – to keep them in the competition for next season.
But can they do it? Their form has been awful and does not suggest they will be able to arrest the decline, especially watching back the Brighton debacle, but a lot can happen in nine games – and it needs to, if Steve Bruce is to steer Mike Ashley’s grounded Sports Direct cargo liner to safer seas.
Here’s FIVE ways Bruce could help the team, the club, the players, the owner and himself in the death throes of an utterly lifeless and forgettable 2020/21 Premier League campaign.
POINT ONE – Resign
Bruce says he will not walk away from Newcastle United as he does not do that kind of thing. A look back at his managerial history suggests otherwise.
This would still, in my eyes, be the biggest game-changer left in United’s season. The presence of Bruce at the club has become toxic. It was pretty much always so for fans, bar the justifiably short and sweet honeymoon period.
Take Bruce out of the equation and it may just be enough to galvanise in the short-term, even without the need for a new appointment. Would be interesting to see if heads were lifted by his departure. Funnily enough, his might be, too.
POINT TWO – Put out fires
If point one isn’t an option, and we probably know the answer to that one, Bruce needs to get cracking on some key issues.
United’s dressing room is ablaze with conflict at present, some of Bruce’s making, others not.
Bruce needs to bin the fire-starter act and start working as extinguisher supreme, putting to bed any internal dislike, mistrust or anger between himself, players and others. Come off the warpath, it’s what’s best for Newcastle United – and you said that’s what matters most.
Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff, Dwight Gayle (despite his new deal), Allan Saint-Maximin, Matt Ritchie, Andy Carroll and others need brought back under his wing.
POINT THREE – Trust the local youth
Experience, largely, is what got Newcastle in this mess – and so sticking with the same faces, as Bruce says he will, is a recipe for disaster, especially when he has such talent at his disposal in reserve.
Matty Longstaff and Elliot Anderson need not only brought back into conversations, they need used. The latter is a player who could unlock doors when they seem slammed shut at United.
Trusting some of the more senior local lads with gametime could also pay dividends, with Carroll desperate to help the cause, feeling the club’s plight not only as a chance-starved striker, but also a lifelong fan.
POINT FOUR – Reintroduce the press
Newcastle need to go back to what saw them markedly improve on the arrival of Graeme Jones. The high, collective press was a success, why was it binned?
Why stick with a system that you think works, but bin its key component? Key players are back now so a continuation of the false nine, split strikers is justified. Let’s hope it’s a return to Everton and Southampton, though, and not the toothless showings at the likes West Brom.
POINT FIVE – Be brave, make uncomfortable decisions
It is never going to be easy to drop a player you think is key – but surely if it is life and death for United’s Premier League hopes then this is something that needs to be done, and sharpish.
Jonjo Shelvey is a key ally of Bruce’s at the club. Everyone can see that.
But loyalty to the player has been one of the causes of United’s downfall. That needs to change.
Shelvey has been shoehorned into this system as the pivot, having looked ill-suited to the left-hand side role. His legs just could not do the work required. That move also proved to the detriment of Isaac Hayden.
United already need to replace injured Hayden in the side, but a switch away from Shelvey would be welcomed by most Newcastle watchers, with attitude and application seemingly in short supply, from the outside looking in, at least.
Switching Hayden for Jeff Hendrick is not the way forward. Nor would be bringing the Irishman in for Shelvey. United need to transform a failing, stale midfield with something extra.
Sean Longstaff has had a tough time of it, but should never have been treated the way he has following the Sheffield United game. It is time for him to be reintroduced in one of those roles. Longstaff will never hide, even if things are not going well, and he will run all day for the cause, something fans often criticise Shelvey for not doing.
Another uncomfortable call is at the back. United need their best players playing, simple as that. And, for me, Federico Fernandez needs to come into the side. At whose expense? Many think Jamaal Lascelles should drop but the skipper has been one of the few brighter points of this poor run. I think Ciaran Clark is probably the one who drops out for the Argentine.
Bruce took too long to change out Karl Darlow for Martin Dubravka, let’s hope he does not do the same here. Whoever Fernandez comes in for, he will improve the backline’s quality.