Mike Ashley has a decision to make at Newcastle United amid calls for Steve Bruce to be sacked
Newcastle United fans have that sinking feeling.
With 11 games to go, the club is just one point above the Premier League’s relegation zone.
This drab, depressing outlook wasn’t in the glossy pre-season brochure.
Last summer, the club paraded new signings Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis at its training ground, and there was some cautious optimism, and welcome positivity, on Tyneside.
Fans felt that Steve Bruce had a squad equipped to challenge for a top-10 place following last season’s 13th-placed finish.
Yet here we are. Sixteenth.
The optimism and positivity is long gone following a tortuous and troubled few months on the field.
Newcastle have won just two games in 18 in all competitions, and the hard-fought point the club took from yesterday’s goalless draw against West Bromwich Albion didn’t look such a good one following Fulham’s win over Liverpool.
The game at The Hawthorns was described as “goalless, joyless” by nufc.com – and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. There were more calls from fans for a managerial change after the match.
West Brom had the better chances, and their manager Sam Allardyce said: “It’s a big disappointment that we haven't finished Newcastle off.”
United didn’t look like scoring, and maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise given that Bruce was without Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron because of injuries.
The club, however, was in trouble before the latest round of injuries.
Newcastle didn’t win enough games with Wilson up front – and Almiron was out of form and often on the bench before coach Graeme Jones’s arrival in late January.
The Covid-19 outbreak at the club, which led to Allan Saint-Maximin being sidelined for two months, is certainly another factor, as the club was 10th in the table when the training ground was closed.
United’s season soon unravelled. A damaging 5-2 defeat to Leeds United at Elland Road in mid-December was the start of a dismal run which would see the club go out of both cups.
Now, supporters fear that their team will drop out of the Premier League, though Bruce – who again omitted Matty Longstaff from his squad – was heartened by the “desire” he saw on the pitch at The Hawthorns.
“The reason why we got the result was their attitude, their desire to take something out of it,” said Bruce, who demanded more “respect” from journalists in January.
“Yes, at times we lacked that bit of quality, especially in the final third, but it was important that we didn’t lose the game. We’ll take a point, and move on to next week.”
Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner, has no desire to dismiss Bruce, who railed against a leak following the revelation that he had a training ground row with Matt Ritchie last week.
Bruce’s unhappiness with leaks is understandable, but leaks aren’t his biggest problem. Instead, they’re seemingly a symptom of problems behind the scenes at the club.
There are echoes of the last two relegations, when Ashley acted too late.
Bruce has blamed individual errors, injuries and Covid-19 for poor performances and results in recent months, but he must accept personal responsibility for the club’s slide down the table.
And Ashley, clearly, has a decision to make – whether he likes it or not.