Worrying signs at Newcastle United as Steve Bruce is spared a fan backlash
Steve Bruce was angrily bellowing at his players at one point as he watched them struggle to break out of their own half.
Had St James’s Park been full, then fans would have been bellowing at Newcastle United’s head coach wanting him to make a change.
Bruce's side, sloppy in possession, were out-thought and out-fought by relegation-threatened Fulham for 45 minutes the empty stadium tonight.
Fortunately, they were able to claim a point from a 1-1 draw thanks to a second-half penalty from Callum Wilson – the strike was his eighth of the season – but supporters watching at home will have been troubled by the team’s first-half performance and their inability to finish a 10-man team off in the last half-hour.
Bruce had wanted a win to get to 20 points well before the halfway point of the season, but Newcastle won’t win any games playing the way they did before the break.
And it wasn’t the reaction United’s head coach had wanted following Wednesday night’s embarrassing 5-2 defeat to Leeds United at Elland Road.
"I think if we're brutally honest we weren't that great," said Bruce. "Against 10 men, we struggled to create anything.”
With tougher festive games on the horizon, this was a chance for Newcastle to give their fans something to celebrate.
Certainly, Bruce's side will have to play a lot better on Tuesday night if they are to beat Championship club Brentford, 3-1 winners against Reading today, and progress in the Carabao Cup.
Bruce had made five changes, all but one expected, following the midweek 5-2 defeat to Leeds United.
Paul Dummett, out since January with hamstring problems, was handed a start along with Jonjo Shelvey, Miguel Almiron, DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Ritchie.
Allan Saint-Maximin, Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Javier Manquillo were again absent, while there was no place on Newcastle’s nine-man bench for Matty Longstaff.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, meanwhile, was restored to Fulham’s starting XI at his former home.
Mitrovic and his team-mates got on to the front foot in the early in the game - and pressed, pressured and probed their hosts. Bruce, frustrated at United’s inability to break out of their own half, was barking orders at his players at the half-hour mark.
Newcastle were dreadful. They lacked ideas and imagination on the ball – Shelvey and Sean Longstaff struggled to get a grip of the game in midfield – and Fulham comfortably dealt with a series of aimless balls forward.
The visitors’ breakthrough came in the 43 minute, when Matt Ritchie inadvertently diverted a Tosin Adarabioyo header into his own net from a Andrea Lookman corner. It was nothing less than they deserved.
To make things worse, Bruce was forced to take off a fatigued Federico Fernandez at the break.
Things didn’t get any better until Joachim Andersen clumsily barged over Wilson just inside the box in the 59th minute. After a VAR and pitchside monitor checks, Anderson was sent off by referee Graham Scott. Wilson stepped up to convert the penalty and equalise.
Newcastle went on to dominate the last 20 minutes, but they couldn’t make their numerical advantage count, and Fulham held on to claim a hard-fought point.
United were again indebted to Wilson, and fans will wonder where their team would be without the striker’s goals this season.