But the result against Burnley this afternoon was familiar. For the second successive home game, Newcastle United were held to a goalless draw.
Yes, they created more chances in a scrappy game, but Bruce’s team, lacking confidence and conviction in the final third of the pitch, didn’t look like taking any of them. The team has gone 360 minutes without a goal.
Bruce had, reluctantly, played a defensive, counter-attacking game after succeeding Rafa Benitez at St James’s Park, and it had worked for a while.
“I’ve said from day one, it’s not the way I want to play,” said Bruce before the game.
So Bruce, finally, changed tactics. The move was prompted by a three-game run without a league goal. United’s head coach, surprisingly, dropped Allan Saint-Maximin. Nabil Bentaleb was also relegated to the bench, and Bruce recalled Dwight Gayle, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden, Javier Manquillo and Matt Ritchie to the team.
“It is glaringly obvious we don’t score enough,” said Bruce. “So if changing is a new era, then we’ll try.”
Bruce set the team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and United settled into the game after a scrappy first 20 minutes. Importantly, Gayle was a threat up front. Jonjo Shelvey found the striker with a pass forward, but his first touch took the ball towards Nick Pope, who was able to gather it after recovering from a slip.
Ritchie also headed wide from a Gayle cross during a spell of pressure late in the half. Shelvey had combined well with Gayle at times, but Newcastle couldn’t break the deadlock before the interval.
Both teams huffed and puffed after the break in front of England manager Gareth Southgate at a chilly St James’s Park. It wasn’t an easy game to watch, and fans chanted “attack, attack, attack” in the second half.
Chances came and went at both ends, and the game ended goalless. Newcastle weren’t able take a leap forward on Leap Day.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Dubravka, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Rose, Hayden Shelvey, Ritchie, Almiron, Joelinton (Saint-Maximin, 78), Gayle. Subs not used: Darlow, Schar, Lejeune, Yedlin, S Longstaff, Bentaleb.