Steve Bruce decision backfires in front of Mike Ashley as Newcastle United suffer defeat

There was a chill in the air at an empty St James’s Park.

Sunday, 20th September 2020, 5:00 pm
Andy Carroll rejects to a Brighton and Hove Albion goal.
Andy Carroll rejects to a Brighton and Hove Albion goal.

Newcastle United had been blowing bubbles after beating West Ham United on a balmy night at the London Stadium eight days earlier.

Today, their bubble burst on a gloomy autumnal afternoon on Tyneside.

Owner Mike Ashley, jacket over his trademark white shirt, was at St James’s Park to see Steve Bruce’s side deservedly beaten 3-0 by Brighton and Hove Albion. They didn’t even have a shot on target.

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How Bruce’s players needed a full stadium behind them. As it was, the team just had Bruce and his bench to encourage, coax and chide them. What they needed was a living, breathing ground full of passionate voices.

Newcastle, disorganised and ill-disciplined, never recovered from an abject start. If they had a plan, it wasn’t clear what it was, and the aimless balls aimed up towards Andy Carroll didn’t trouble Brighton.

Allan Saint-Maximin, hampered by an ankle injury, was taken off after an awful 34 minutes on the pitch.

Bruce had again talked up his squad before the game after back-to-back wins, and he had a dilemma ahead of the game with Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser having staked their claims to Premier League starts in the midweek Carabao Cup win over Blackburn Rovers.

United’s head coach, however, opted to name an unchanged team against Brighton, once the club’s closest rivals in the Championship.

The two clubs took that rivalry, forged in that season’s promotion race, into the Premier League, though July’s goalless draw between the two clubs at the Amex Stadium in July was forgettable. This would turn out to be worse.

Like Newcastle, Brighton are now Premier League survivors. Bruce’s ambition is for his team to thrive, not just survive, in the division.

All of the club’s new signings made an impression in the club’s first two games. The opening against Brighton, however, was brutal, and Bruce, presumably, have regretted his decision not to tweak his team.

Neal Maupay scored twice inside the first eight minutes, first from the penalty spot after Saint-Maximin brought down Tariq Lamptey, who was outstanding. His second, flagged for offside, was awarded after a lengthy VAR check.

Newcastle got nowhere with aimless balls lumped upfield, and Hendrick was hastily switched to the left to stop Lamptey, who had wreaked havoc in the opening few minutes.

Saint-Maximin – who suffered an ankle injury early in the game – was replaced by Fraser late in the half.

The damage had been done by then, and Brighton took their lead into the interval. Had there been fans inside the stadium, the players would have been booed off.

Newcastle, with Almiron on for Andy Carroll, go on the front foot in the second half, but they still couldn’t trouble Mat Ryan, and Aaron Connolly netted a third for Brighton, who had Yves Bissouma sent off for elbowing Lewis.

Ashley, surely, won’t hurry back up to St James’s Park after enduring a dismal afternoon.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow, Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Lewis, Hendrick, Hayden, Shelvey (Joelinton, 72), Saint-Maximin (Fraser, 34), Carroll (Almiron 46), Wilson. Subs not used: Gillespie, Clark, Ritchie, Krafth.