Why Newcastle United and Steve Bruce must be wary of the quiet majority of fans

Newcastle United fans could only scream at their TVs in frustration.

Monday, 23rd November 2020, 3:30 pm

They were watching their team camped deep against Chelsea at an empty St James’s Park.

Of course, some of them also vented their frustrations on social media.

We can only guess what the reaction of a full stadium would have been to Saturday’s 2-0 Premier League defeat – though it certainly wouldn’t have been favourable.

The performance, of course, could have been different had there been fans behind the team inside St James’s Park, which has been empty since February due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bruce’s team, undoubtedly, has missed the support of the club’s fans. However, it’s a two-way street. Supporters need something to shout about. The team and the club’s fans feed off each other, and it’s likely there would have been boos at the final whistle.

United, though better after the break, were too negative and too unambitious, and the performance, inevitably, raised more questions about the direction of the team under Bruce, the club’s head coach.

There was some welcome positivity on Tyneside at the start of the campaign following the summer acquisitions of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis. Newcastle bought well, but they haven’t played well enough since then.

Newcastle United's Andy Carroll gets ready to go on as manager Steve Bruce intructs his players.

And now there’s far more negativity in the city, though the club has had some challenging fixtures, as pointed out by Bruce after the game.

"They’re frustrated because we can’t get a result,” said Bruce. “We’ve played three of the top six, and it’s been very difficult.

"There was lots to like about the second half, but I can understand the frustration because we went far too deep in the first half, which is always the problem when you try and play that way.”

It was reported over the weekend that Bruce, appointed last year amid a backlash over the departure of Rafa Benitez, retained the “full backing” of the club’s hierarchy.

And the report claimed that senior figures do not believe the online “animosity” towards Bruce is truly reflective of the club’s wider fanbase.

The Daily Telegraph’s Luke Edwards wrote: “Sources have indicated that, although the club are aware of growing unrest on social media, they won’t make decisions based on what is perceived to be anger and animosity towards the manager by a vocal minority.”

The most hostile voices are invariably the loudest online, and, as such, social media isn’t always the best barometer of fan sentiment. That said, unrest and dissatisfaction among fans doesn’t seem to be limited to a “vocal minority”, and many supporters are still asking questions about the team’s identity 16 months after Bruce’s appointment.

Bruce has chopped and changed formations and systems this season – and is yet to get the balance right between defence and attack.

The 59-year-old has spoken about his team being a “work in progress”, but fans expected more progress by now.

Yes, Newcastle are eight points above the relegation zone, but that gap isn’t cause for any complacency. This team, which finished 13th last season, should be looking up the table.

There are more winnable games coming up – and United need to start winning.

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