The low Mike Ashley bar that could keep Steve Bruce at Newcastle United

Steve Bruce was favourite for the sack for less than 24 hours.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 12:30 pm

Frank Lampard, according to bookmakers, is now the most likely the next Premier League manager to go following Chelsea’s defeat to Leicester City last night.

Roman Abramovich, we know, can be ruthless at Stamford Bridge. Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner, is ruthless in business, but less so when it comes to firing managers.

Abramovich sets the bar high. Ashley does not.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This season should have been about a push for a top-10 place following the arrivals of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis last summer, not another relegation battle.

However, United's position in the bottom half isn’t in itself seemingly a concern for the the club’s hierarchy, though we don’t hear directly from managing director Lee Charnley, who has again been silent. Instead, Bruce has been left to communicate to an angry and agitated fanbase.

Premier League survival, as ever, is the main priority, and United are seven points above the relegation zone with 18 games played.

The team, having averaged just over one point per game so far, is on course to hit 40 points this season. As such, Ashley may not be minded to make a change, despite the clamour for Bruce’s sacking on Tyneside.

Steve Bruce.

But there are no guarantees the club will take another 19 points from the next 18 games. None at all. United have taken one point from a possible 15, and things are unravelling on the pitch.

Bruce, appointed in the summer of 2019 following the controversial departure of Rafa Benitez, has lost the fanbase – and fans are questioning whether he has lost the players too.

The team is struggling, and few on Tyneside believe a sustained upturn is possible so long as Bruce remains in charge.

Bruce pledged to do it “his way” in the wake of last week’s shocking defeat to Sheffield United, but he didn’t get the response he wanted from his players at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night.

Bruce, 18 months into the job, is yet to settle on a way of playing. Bruce, keen to get more on the front foot, knows the way he wants to go, but the team looks lost.

The situation will have Ashey’s attention given the importance of staying up – he is trying to resurrect a proposed £300million takeover through arbitration – but he acted too late in the 2015/16 season, and the result was an inevitable relegation.

A 3-1 win for Bournemouth, then managed by Eddie Howe, led to the sacking of McClaren in March 2016, and Benitez had just 10 games to turn things round. It wasn’t enough time, and a longer-term rebuild was needed.

Howe, out of work since leaving Bournemouth last summer, is the favourite to succeed Bruce

There are 20 games left, and Bruce, it seems, will get some more time. The team will take on Aston Villa, his former club, on Saturday night.

If things continue to unravel at St James’s Park, Ashley will have to act, and time is fast running out for Bruce to show the way forward at Newcastle.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Newcastle United coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of NUFC coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor