This is the blueprint for Steve Bruce and Newcastle United
At last, some hope for 2021. Newcastle United – and Steve Bruce – needed a performance above all else after a tough couple of weeks.
And Bruce got one against Liverpool tonight
Bruce – who turns 60 tomorrow – will have a happier birthday after watching his team claim a point from a goalless thanks to a committed and spirited performance at St James’s Park.
The result came hours after the North East was moved into Tier 4 amid rising coronavirus infection rates in England, and supporters, at least, needed a distraction from the worsening situation as they wait for the vaccine rollout.
They saw Newcastle play with pace and purpose. Bruce's side were also dogged and determined in defence – and they deserved their point.
Bruce, unwisely, had gone on the attack after the United’s Boxing Day loss to Manchester City. Bruce, having said he would accept whatever criticism that came his way following the club’s Carabao Cup defeat to Brentford, revealed his unhappiness at what he felt was “mass hysteria” following the loss.
United’s head coach needed his players – who also claimed after the cup defeat that he hadn’t lost the dressing room – to go on the attack against Liverpool.
And they did. Newcastle took the game to their visitors in the first 20 minutes. Callum Wilson, recalled to the starting XI after missing out against City due to an ankle problem, had three early half-chances.
United had the better of the first 30 minutes. They played with intensity and pressed well. Matty Longstaff – who kept his place after coming into the team at the Etihad Stadium – kept the ball moving well in midfield alongside Isaac Hayden, who shot wide just past the half-hour mark.
Karl Darlow, now facing competition from fit-again Martin Dubravka, denied Mohamed Salah with a superb fingertip save at the other end of the pitch and. Darlow also stopped a header from Roberto Firmino before the break.
Newcastle, so poor against Brentford, played with a welcome intensity. They kept pressing and probing in the second half, and Bruce sent on Miguel Almiron after Salah put a chance wide.
Darlow was again there when United needed him during a fraught finale at a bitterly cold St James’s Park.