This is how Steve Bruce gets more balance at Newcastle United
Steve Bruce bristled at the suggestion he was a “lucky” manager before his team took on Burnley tonight.
Bruce, under pressure at Newcastle United after a series of unconvincing performances, got the response he wanted and needed from his players at a sodden St James’s Park, where they won 3-1 thanks to two goals from Callum Wilson and a strike from Allan Saint-Maximin.
And his team made their own luck.
Saint-Maximin’s brilliance will get the headlines, along with Wilson’s first two strikes at the stadium as a United player, but this was very much a team win. The players gave Bruce what he wanted.
The result lifted the club up to sixth in the Premier League, and, certainly, the way Saint-Maximin and Wilson combined, in particuar, is encouraging.
Also notable was the performance of Joelinton in a deeper role. The striker played intelligently, and used and found space well.
Bruce, having gone on the attack ahead of the game, had needed a reaction from his team. Newcastle’s players followed Bruce’s lead – and went on the attack themselves.
Bruce, without injured captain Jamaal Lascelles, dropped Miguel Almiron to the bench and fielded Joelinton behind Wilson in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Newcastle got the start they wanted, though they may not have expected it to come from a long ball forward.
Wilson had had an early chance from a long kick from Jonjo Shelvey. The striker took the ball round Nick Pope, but opted to pull it back for Joelinton, only for Burnley to intercept it.
However, the breakthrough wasn’t long in coming, and it came from another long ball. Karl Darlow launched the ball upfield, and Wilson chested it to Saint-Maximin. Burnley backed off, and Saint-Maximin ran – and ran. He made it to the box, and with five visiting players around him, he squeezed the ball between Pope and the right-hand post.
Tellingly, Saint-Maximin, back from an ankle injury, ran to the touchline to celebrate with Bruce, who had demanded more “balance” in the reporting of his team before the game.
“Look, I’ve had noise from the day I walked through the door,” said Bruce, who has managed 433 Premier League games. “I don’t mind noise at all, as long as it’s balanced, and I take criticism, as long as it’s fair.”
There wasn’t much to criticise about United’s first-half performance – and, certainly, Saint-Maximin gave his side more balance.
But Newcastle found it harder going after the break, and Burnley levelled in the 61st minute thanks to a low strike from Ashley Westwood through a crowded box.
United were soon back in front thanks to more brilliance from Saint-Maximin, who accelerated past Charlie Taylor on the right and bent a brilliant low cross round the back of the visiting defence for Wilson to prod home.
Wilson won’t have scored too many easier goals in his career, as Saint-Maximin’s cross was that good.
And Wilson, signed from Bournemouth this summer for £15million, made it 3-1 from the penalty spot after Pope wiped out substitute Ryan Fraser after taking a bad touch.
There was no coming back from that.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow, Krafth, Fernandez, Schar (Manquillo, 55), Lewis, Hayden, Shelvey, Hendrick, Joelinton (S Longstaff, 90), Saint-Maximin, Wilson. Subs not used: Gillespie, Carroll, Fraser, Murphy, Almiron.