Steve Bruce tackles his critics at Newcastle United – and addresses 'this Rafa Benitez thing'
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It’s taken time, but Bruce feels that he’s getting some appreciation for the job he’s done so far at the club.
Bruce’s side are just two points off 10th-placed Arsenal ahead of this evening’s behind-closed-doors home game against Aston Villa after restarting their Premier League campaign with a 3-0 win over Sheffield United on Sunday.
And the 59-year-old, controversially appointed last summer as Rafa Benitez’s successor, is aiming to end an interrupted season with a top-half finish.
Bruce’s name wasn’t sung from the stands when fans were allowed inside the stadiums before football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he believes that the club’s fans have backed him, despite the unhappiness on Tyneside at the departure of Benitez.
However, Bruce has had his critics, and he knows he will face a less certain future at St James’s Park should a proposed £300million takeover be given the go-ahead by the Premier League.
“The supporters have been very good to me, I have to be brutally honest,” said United’s head coach. “It seems to be certain websites, certain journalists, whatever, but the actual supporters have been how I expected them to be.
“They have been behind the team and myself. As I've said many times, whoever was going to replace Rafa would find it difficult because of the respect that he had.
“I hope, over time, they judge me on results and judge me on what they see and at least give me a year into it. If I'm no good then fine, off with my head. At the moment, we're doing OK, so that's OK.”
Newcastle, 13th in the league, are well-placed ahead of the Villa game. The club also has a home FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City to look forward to on Sunday.
“If somebody said to me we would be two points behind Arsenal with eight games to play, I would have said that’s practically impossible,” said Bruce.
“We’re going to try and see where we can finish. It’s important that we don’t think ‘oh, well, we’ve done the job at hand’. It’s important we finish off the season the way we all would like to.
“Let’s try and look forward rather than always over our shoulder, which was the remit to start with, to keep the club established in the Premier League.
Bruce, a boyhood Newcastle fan, has come in for criticism on social media since taking the job, but fans didn’t turn on him inside St James’s Park when the team was struggling for goals and wins earlier in the season.
Asked how much satisfaction he was taking from the job, Bruce said: “Ask me that in a month's time when it's finished.
“Let's see where we are. But we've given ourselves a wonderful opportunity with eight games to go and a big cup-tie – when I watched Manchester City last night, we realise what we're up against, for sure – but ask me at the end of it.
“As I've always tried to in football, I'll let other people assess how well we've done or what we haven't done.
“I just hope there's a bit of appreciation. There seems to be. As I've said many, many times, I feel the supporters have been very, very good to me.
“The vast majority who I bump into and certainly in the stadium – and it's unfortunate that there isn't anybody there at the minute – but certainly in the stadium, they've been right behind the team and right behind me, which is good.
Bruce was tipped by one broadcaster as a candidate for manager of the year alongside Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Chris Wilder of Sheffield United.
However, Bruce, mindful of the pitfalls of management, is reluctant to look too far ahead.
“Look, I think you all understand that it’s a difficult job, but it's one I really thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy,” said Bruce.
“There have been some tough times along the way, but then again if you manage Newcastle, there's always a storm around the corner and I'm waiting.
“At the minute we're doing OK, but I'm waiting for the next one. I'm waiting for the next wave to hit and we'll see when that is.
“But look, as I said, I was determined to enjoy the job and enjoy the challenge of managing Newcastle and that will not change.”
United finished 10th and 13th with 44 and 45 points respectively.
Newcastle, on 38 points, could exceed those points hauls, but Bruce is reluctant to draw any comparisons.
“I really don’t compare myself,” said Bruce. “This Rafa thing (comparing myself to him) … that’s really not my intention at all.
“We’ll see where we end up. We could finish in the top 10, and that, for me, at Newcastle that would be great.
“But we still have a lot to do. We have some tough games, we’ve got a lot to play, and let’s see where we are at the end of it. Then we can assess what we've done and what we haven't done.
“There's still eight games to go, so let's just focus on that.”