The challenging new dynamic for Steve Bruce amid Newcastle United takeover paralysis
Steve Bruce and his Newcastle United team are back in the spotlight ahead of the new Premier League season.
Bruce’s side, beaten by non-league York City, take on Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium on Friday night.
The focus, however, will be as much on the away end as the pitch. It’s been 501 days since the club, which has been given a 3,300-seat allocation for the friendly, had an away following.
United fans will head to South Yorkshire in their numbers, though this isn’t an indication of any great enthusiasm ahead of the new campaign.
We know now that there won’t be a timely resolution to the dispute between the club and the Premier League over a proposed £300million takeover.
Also, we know that there isn’t much money available to strengthen a team which only pulled away from relegation trouble in the final few weeks of last season. Will Joe Willock be back on loan? We don’t know – yet.
The club looks to be in trouble before a ball is kicked in anger – and supporters will make their voices heard against Doncaster.
We haven’t seen away fans since March 7 last year, when a strike from Allan Saint-Maximin gave the club a 1-0 win over Southampton.
A handful of supporters got into the LNER Community Stadium for Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to York City, despite tickets only being sold to home fans, though they didn’t have much to shout about.
“Listen, we’re disappointed, but it’s not all about the result,” said Bruce. “It’s all about fitness levels.”
United will be fitter following their run-out against York, but will they be any better?
Certainly, the return of fans – home and away – will change the dynamic for Bruce, spared boos by behind-closed-doors football until the final home game of 2020/21, and his players this season.
To that end, Bruce desperately needs to get fans behind his team in pre-season – and an improvement is needed against Doncaster.
The club’s first visit to the Keepmoat Stadium came in 2008 during Kevin Keegan’s ill-fated second spell as manager.
Keegan fielded trialist Sebastien Bassong, wearing No.46, in his team, and the defender didn’t put a foot wrong. Fans chanted “there’s only one 46” and “46, give us a wave” that afternoon – and the club quickly signed Bassong up.
The club also visited Doncaster in the summer of 2016. This game, by contrast, marked the end of one player’s Newcastle career.
Georginio Wijnaldum had looked like he wanted to be anywhere but the Keepmoat Stadium when he got off the team coach. The midfielder, waiting on a move to Liverpool, didn’t stop to sign any autographs – or, unusually for him, smile.
There was a chant of “Gini Wijnaldum, we want you to stay” during his brief appearance off the bench,
However, Wijnaldum – who shrugged his shoulders when asked for an interview as he left the stadium – had already made up his mind.
Wijnaldum didn’t look back. He went on to win the Premier League and Champions League at Liverpool.
Sadly, such success is unthinkable at United as long as Mike Ashley is owner, and many buying tickets for Doncaster fear that another relegation battle is looming on the pitch given the recent events off the field.