The big talking point among Newcastle United fans – and it isn't Premier League safety
It’s been a good few days for Newcastle United.
The club deservedly, and memorably, beat Leicester City 4-2 at the King Power Stadium on Friday night to edge closer to Premier League safety.
And Fulham’s 2-0 defeat to Burnley last night saw the club’s status top-flight status confirmed for another season.
Steve Bruce, his staff and the club’s squad deserve credit for turning the club’s season around over the past few weeks.
Relegation was a very real possibility following a shocking defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion in March which left Bruce in a seemingly untenable position at St James’s Park. Owner Mike Ashley, however, thought differently.
A change in system which necessitated a recall for Matt Ritchie – and the return of Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson from injury – were key factors behind an upturn in results.
Yet the biggest talking point over the past 24 hours has been a Bruce interview with talkSPORT.
The most contentious line concerned the “expectations” on Tyneside.
“Here’s the big thing,” said Bruce. “Newcastle, in the last 14, 15 years have been in the bottom half of the Premier League.
"We’d all love to see Newcastle United being back to signing the Alan Shearers of this world for world record fees, but that just isn’t going to happen. It’s difficult managing the expectation, which obviously is still there.”
This remark riled a fanbase which doesn’t believe it has an unrealistic expectations for a club which regularly competed in Europe before Ashley’s ownership.
United fans aren’t expecting the club to break the world transfer record, as it did when it signed Alan Shearer in 1996. However, they do not expect squad which has been significantly strengthened to be near the foot of the Premier League.
Yes, injuries and a Covid-19 outbreak late last year have affected the squad, but they’re not the only factors, and the arrival of coach Graeme Jones in January brought badly-needed “fresh ideas” to the training ground. The team, crucially, now has more of an identity.
Bruce also addressed criticism of him from fans and, in particular, journalists.
“It’s a fantastic football club, and if you’re a Geordie, it’s unique,” said United’s head coach. “The vast majority of people you speak to on the street are wishing me the best of luck – and telling me to take no notice of the rubbish.
“It’s been very difficult, and certain journalists didn’t want me there from day one. I was never going to be good enough.
“That’s fair enough, and that’s his opinion, and you have to respect that. But come on, just be a bit balanced. You have to accept criticism, it’s part and parcel of it, but I think, at times, it has been unjust. I’ve always said to try and judge me when I have a fit squad.”
No manager, of course, ever has a fully fit squad for long.
Bruce was also goaded into some ill-advised remarks on the need to “put in his place” a journalist banned from St James’s Park following the publication of an accurate story.
Maybe Bruce, on reflection, will wish he’d handled some questions differently.
A lot could have been handled differently this season, but, thankfully, Newcastle are safe for another season.