Newcastle United and Steve Bruce really should know better
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Steve Bruce didn’t take any questions from written journalists ahead of tomorrow night’s home game against Leeds United. Not one.
Newcastle United changed the format of Bruce’s pre-match press conference, and TV and radio broadcasters were only allowed to ask Bruce questions on this morning’s Zoom call.
The background to this decision is a 10-game run without a win in all competitions. That run has seen the club drop down to 16th place in the Premier League – and exit both cups.
Bruce, we know, has been irritated by some of the criticism that has come his way in recent weeks. He was also unhappy at seeing former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe linked with the job.
United’s head coach, up to now, has retained the backing of Mike Ashley, but, if this losing run continues, the club’s owner will be forced to act, and the club’s would-be owners, a consortium led by Amanda Staveley and backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will be watching closely.
Things are unravelling on and off the pitch at Newcastle, a club which has been twice relegated under Ashley’s ownership.
The odds on a third relegation have been cut in recent weeks. Bruce has chopped and changed teams and tactics, but there has been no significant improvement from the team, and fans, understandably, have asked whether he has lost the dressing room.
Bruce – who last month insisted that he had to accept all the criticism that would come his way following the club’s Carabao Cup defeat to Brentford – was asked whether he felt he was still the right man for the job by one broadcaster.
“I’ve been in it a long, long time,” said the 60-year-old. “I’ve been in this situation before, and you draw on your experience with it. There’s no doubt at all it’s difficult, but I’m still convinced, ‘yes’ is the answer to your question.”
The overwhelming majority of supporters seem convinced that there needs to be a managerial change.
After Saturday night’s 2-0 loss to Aston Villa at Villa Park, a banner which read “act late, seal your fate” was held up outside St James’s Park.
Ashley acted too late in the 2015/16 season when United were struggling under Steve McClaren – and the club was relegated.
Many fans – who have not been allowed inside St James’s Park for almost a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – fear that history will repeat itself. It would be costly to dismiss Bruce, but relegation would prove costlier.
The club’s reaction to the team’s form has been to attempt to recruit another coach to assist Bruce, who already has Steve Agnew, Stephen Clemence, Steve Harper and Ben Dawson working alongside him.
Graeme Jones will this week join Newcastle’s backroom team – and give Bruce a “fresh voice”.
Certainly, things have gone stale on the pitch, and the hope is that Jones can freshen up the team.
The club’s communication strategy also needs to be freshened up. Managing director Lee Charnley has again been silent, and Bruce has been the only senior figure to speak this season.
The decision not to allow questions from written journalists appears ill-advised – and simply feeds into the narrative that Bruce’s time at United is coming to an end.