Newcastle United's latest defeat was especially worrying – here's why
Two weeks. Two long weeks. Steve Bruce has a long time to think about what he saw at the St Mary’s Stadium last night.
Newcastle United supporters, however, will want to forget what they saw on TV.
Bruce’s side were beaten 2-0 by Southampton, and the club’s head coach didn’t pull any punches about a “very difficult” evening in his post-match assessment on Zoom.
Ralph Hassenhuttl’s intelligent team pressed high and played between the lines in the behind-closed-doors Premier League game, while the visitors just couldn’t pass the ball. They gave it away time and again, and Southampton’s goals came from players getting caught in possession in dangerous areas.
Karl Darlow, United’s over-worked goalkeeper, had another busy night.
“The first goal, I think, summed us up all evening, giving the ball away in a poor area,” said Bruce. “At this level you simply can’t do it, be caught twice (in possession), I’ll be honest with you caught too many times.
“We’ve been all week talking about how good Southampton are, and their press, they come after you, and the one thing you have to do is play off the front. We simply couldn’t do it.”
The result and performance were compounded by the hamstring injuries suffered by Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser.
So where does Bruce go from here? A change to a more defensive, counter-attacking formation had paid dividends following a 4-1 home defeat to Manchester United, but the switch hasn’t suited Allan Saint-Maximin, who’s been lost in a freer role behind Wilson.
More change is seemingly needed, and some fans, 15 months into Bruce’s tenure, still don’t trust Bruce’s process. The 59-year-old wants to get on the front foot, but all too often his team has ended up on the back foot.
And United still don’t have a clear identity, a settled way of playing, under Bruce.
That’s something that can’t be said about Southampton under Hassenhuttl.
It’s worth remembering that just over a year ago Hassenhuttl’s team were beaten 9-0 at home by Leicester City.
That kind of humiliating result would have cost many managers their jobs, but Hassenhuttl stayed in his post. The club trusted his process, and the decision was vindicated with an 11th-placed finish.
Today, Southampton top the league, though they won’t stay atop the division for long.
Hassenhuttl was asked about the Leicester defeat – and his team’s progress since then – after the Newcastle win, and his answer was revealing.
“We developed, not with a lot of invested money, but with a lot of invested work,” said the 53-year-old. “We made so many big steps forward. We’re now a strong side. That’s not a coincidence.”
Bruce has had money to spend, but the progress is less obvious. The team has taken a few steps forward this season, but they took a big step backwards at the St Mary’s Stadium last night.
Bruce – who has repeatedly called his team a “work in progress” – will “dwell” on the performance over the international break.
“I’ll dwell on it,” said Bruce. “There’s certainly positions up for grabs, that’s for sure. We just have to wait until the internationals come back, it’s as simple as that. It’s a long time to wait.”
It is a long wait, but Bruce has a lot to dwell on.