Newcastle United fan return, Joelinton form & Steve Bruce's 'progress' – Q&A with Liam Kennedy, Miles Starforth & Jordan Cronin
Newcastle United head into their penultimate game of the Premier League season against Sheffield United looking to continue riding the recent wave of positivity – and this time FANS will be there to watch it!
In our weekly NUFC Q&A, Liam Kennedy, Miles Starforth and Jordan Cronin tackle the key black and white issues ahead of the St James’ Park encounter...
Do you think Steve Bruce will make changes for the Sheffield United game? If so, who could come in?
LK: “I think he might switch things up a little in the final two games of the campaign – and I would hope to see Matty Longstaff get some minutes. However, I’m not certain he will change his approach to that degree, with Longstaff largely cut out of the first-team conversation for much of the campaign. I do expect to see Andy Carroll gets his St James’ Park swansong tomorrow, probably from the bench.”
MS: “I’d be very surprised if he makes any changes, unless there’s an injury we don’t know about. Bruce is desperate to better last season’s 44-point tally, and I’m sure he’ll go with what he feels is his strongest XI. As such, United could well be unchanged.”
JC: “I’m not sure he will. I’d like to see Sean Longstaff come in for Jonjo Shelvey but that is unlikely. It’d be good to see a bit more of Jamal Lewis but to drop Matt Ritchie would be harsh. From an old romantic point of view, it'd be nice to see Andy Carroll get one last dance in front of the St James’ Park crowd but based on current form, Saint-Maximin and Joelinton deserve to remain in the starting XI.”
What have you made of the form of Joelinton?
LK: “Decent. I would argue since early March, probably the West Brom game he’s been one of United’s most consistent performers. Brighton was poor for everyone and Liverpool wasn’t his best game, but outside of that the frontman has shown he can add value to the United squad. I’d written him off totally prior to the last two months, but even I’m now slightly re-evaluating. Say as you see – and what I’ve seen has been acceptable. His progress is steady after 18 months of disappointment.”
MS: “Certainly, he played well against City, and took his penalty well. We’ve seen good things from him, but, overall this season, I’d say we haven’t seen enough from him. Joelinton’s still not a £40million No.9, and maybe never will be given how unselfish he is in front of goal, but he’s made some progress on the pitch, and that’s positive.”
JC: “I’m really pleased for him. He’ll never be the player we all wanted from a £40m signing but as I’ve said countless times, it’s not about the price tag anymore. He’s got better and is having an impact on games - and that’s all we can ask for. Confidence has always been a major issue for Joelinton but that penalty against City does suggest he is beginning to find his feet. Long may his upturn in form continue.”
Fans return to the ground for the first time since February 2020 on Wednesday night, what impact, if any, will this have on the occasion?
LK: “A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the last time fans were inside St James’ Park. And it will be interesting to see the dynamic. Will they just be so happy to be back where they belong, or will the months of torture under the manager be vocalised by those in attendance? I’m genuinely interested to see what happens. I do expect it to be a more positive than negative atmosphere, however.”
MS: “They will transform the occasion. This will be a momentous game purely because of the return of supporters after an absence of almost 15 months. Behind-closed-doors football is soulless, and 10,000 fans will give the stadium back its soul. I can’t wait to see fans back through the turnstiles.”
JC: “For all the criticism that has come Bruce and the players’ way this season, it is the perfect chance to entertain. There’s nothing to play for in terms of the game itself but everything to play for in terms of the fans. It should give players a massive lift and hopefully they’ll put on a performance - the fans deserve it after not being inside their second home since February last year.”
Steve Bruce has set to aim of breaking the 44-point tally of last season - do you think United will, and if they did, would that represent progress at all?
LK: “None. Not even close. This was a season Bruce wanted to kick on towards the top ten, despite the continuously low expectations of those above him. United have, in fact, gone backwards, flirting more with relegation this campaign than last. This cycle has to stop. Although I doubt it ever will until there is a new owner on Tyneside.”
MS: “Before the Arsenal game, I felt that Newcastle could take five or six points from their final five games. That estimate needs revising upwards, as United will now feel that they can win their last two games to finish on 45 points. That, for me, would be progress from where the club was in late March, but not from where it was last summer.”
JC: “No, not at all. This season should - as proven over the last few weeks - have promised so much more. There is no getting away from the fact it has been largely brutal. Remember… two wins in 21 - Bruce should have been sacked, regardless of recent results."
LK: “This might sound a little negative but I reckon a 1-1 is on the cards. Not sure why, just a hunch.”
MS: “I’m going for a 2-0 home win for Newcastle.”
JC: “3-1 Newcastle. Joelinton on the scoresheet again.”