That’s one question Newcastle United fans have been asking over the past week or two. Bruce’s side were deservedly knocked out of the Carabao Cup by an under-strength Brentford before Christmas, and that defeat had followed a disappointing 1-1 home draw against relegation-threatened Fulham and an embarrassing 5-2 defeat to Leeds United.
Newcastle’s head coach – who still has the backing of owner Mike Ashley – was asked after after the 1-0 cup defeat whether the players were still playing for him.
“I do think the players are playing for us,” said Bruce. “Maybe they’re just not playing well enough. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have lost tonight. It’s certainly not down to lack of effort or determination.”
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Too many players are under-performing. And the team, without club captain Jamaal Lascelles, has lacked leadership on the pitch. Is the lethargy down to the recent Covid-19 outbreak at the club – or is there more to it?
Bruce, for his part, says the closure of the training ground earlier this month can’t be used as an excuse, and, certainly, the performance at the Brentford Community Stadium was inexcusable.
But this isn’t just down to the players. Supporters are again questioning Bruce’s tactics and suitability for the job. Brentford had a plan, but did Newcastle?
Bruce’s side take on Manchester City tonight, and the very least fans expect is a show of commitment.
If the players are behind Bruce, then we should see evidence of that on the pitch at the Etihad Stadium. And, certainly, Bruce can’t afford any more embarrassing defeats.