Newcastle United hit a shocking new low under Steve Bruce
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Sheffield United deservedly beat Bruce’s side 1-0 – it was their first Premier League win in 18 attempts this season – to heap more pressure on the club’s under-fire head coach.
Bruce, knowing this was a game he couldn’t afford to lose, had named a defensive-looking side, though he did gamble on a fit-again Ryan Fraser. That decision backfired after the winger, back from injury, was dismissed late in the first half at Bramall Lane.
And Billy Sharp’s second-half penalty saw Chris Wilder’s side take all three points.
Bruce had claimed ahead of the game that Newcastle were not in a relegation battle, though he may soon have to reassess his view.
“At the moment we have a nice healthy cushion to the bottom three,” said Bruce at the weekend.
Bruce’s aspirations at the start of the season had been for a top-10 finish. However, Newcastle have been dropping down the Premier League in recent weeks, and supporters fear that the club is on a downward spiral.
Fans had been mindful of Newcastle’s defeat to Derby County in 2007/08 ahead of the game. That team, statistically the worst in Premier League history, beat United at Pride Park – and supporters drew parallels given the record of their winless hosts.
Bruce, at least, had leading scorer Callum Wilson back, while Fraser was handed a start following his return to fitness. Otherwise, the team had a very defensive look about it, maybe highlighting Bruce’s nervousness about the fixture.
Bruce fielded a five-man defence with lone striker Wilson supported by Fraser and Sean Longstaff, playing ahead of his younger brother Matty.
The home side took the game to Newcastle in the first 20 minutes, and Karl Darlow – who kept his place in goal despite the return of Martin Dubravka in the weekend’s FA Cup tie – denied David McGoldrick.
Fraser was a threat with his pace, but the visitors gave the ball away too cheaply, and didn’t get it to the winger often enough.
Wilson headed wide from a stand-in captain Federico Fernandez cross later in the half, and McGoldrick headed over at the other end of the pitch.
The game swung from end to end, and Newcastle were far too open at tines. Wilder’s side, playing neat football, had the better of it, but they didn’t get a goal before the break.
However, Fraser’s needless dismissal for a second bookable offence gave them an added advantage for the second half.
Bruce reverted to a back four after the break and moved Fabian Schar into midfield, while Wilder, chasing the win, sent on Sharp at the hour-mark.
Newcastle were spirited in defence, but the ball kept coming back, and it was headed away time and again by Fernandez and his team-mates. The ball didn’t often reach Wilson up front.
Before Matt Ritchie could replace the injured Paul Dummett, things got a lot worse for Bruce’s side.
Referee Andy Madley pointed to the spot after a pitchside VAR check on a Fernandez challenge on Sharp, and the striker stroked the penalty past Darlow.
There was no way back for Newcastle, and it’s hard to see a way back for Bruce given the mood on Tyneside.