Steve Bruce answers £77.5m question at Newcastle United
Steve Bruce says he can’t back his misfiring £77.5million strike force forever – as Newcastle United’s lack of goals is threatening the club’s top-flight status.
Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron have scored one goal between them so far this season.
Bruce’s side, 17th in the Premier League, are the second-lowest scorers in the division.
Joelinton, signed for £40million from Hoffenheim in the summer, has had just three shots on target, and Bruce has admitted that the 23-year-old’s confidence has taken a hit since he opened his account in late August.
However, United’s head coach will persevere with his front three against West Ham United at the London Stadium this afternoon.
“Look, I’ve not really had to be that patient with the front three, because Allan’s only played a few games, and, you know, one of them was Man United and another one was Chelsea, so against them, you’re not going to be creating much,” said Bruce, whose side was held to a 1-1 draw at St James's Park by Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend.
“Against Wolves last week, we had more possession in the first half, which pleased me. Second-half, we were bang average. That could be because Wolves changed their system slightly, but we didn’t have enough possession in middle of the pitch, we gave it away far too often. That, for me, was the real concern.
“Look, I can only change the system or personnel. It can't continue on forever, but them three up top at the minute have only played together three times.
“As I said, when we had decent possession last week, we were a threat with one or two opportunities to score, and that’s where we have to keep working.”
Newcastle lost the Premier League experience of Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon in the summer.
The club sold Perez to Leicester City after the club activated his £30million release clause, while Rondon – who spent last season on loan at St James’s Park – was offered a lucrative contract at Dalian Yifang by Rafa Benitez, his former Newcastle manager, after returning to parent club West Bromwich Albion.
Bruce was left with forward line with little experience of English football – Almiron joined from Atlanta United a £21million January deal and Saint-Maximin was signed from Nice in the summer for £16.5million – and he has acknowledged that it was a “risk” on the part of a club which is, again, focused on buying players with a re-sale value.
“There's a relative risk in all of that,” said Bruce. “I can understand all that, too, but, then again, there's a risk on anyone you sign. Where can you get an established Premier League player at 22, 23? Probably, we can't get them.
“They’re few and far between at that age. Sometimes, you have to take a proven Premier League player. That's something we will look at as well.”
Asked how he intended to lift them, Bruce said: “You can only go and work with them and reassure them.
“Almiron, we're all desperate for him, because we can see the work he puts in and what he is. Let's be fair, last January, some of my mates tell me he lit up St James's Park. He's something that we hadn't seen before.
“Certainly, Saint-Maximin is not struggling for confidence. Joe, we have to reassure him that we're all behind him, and that he's got to keep doing the things that he's good at.
“It’s the same for Miggy. Miggy's had a few chances this year since I've been here – I don't know what happened last year – but unfortunately he hasn't taken them. If he does get one of them, in my experience, especially a centre forward, you see the other side of them then and let's hope that happens.”
Bruce’s has had one-on-one meetings with Joelinton.
“Most of my management is one-to-one with them,” said the 58-year-old. “He’s having a tough time, there’s no disputing that, but he’s got to come through it, and he will. He’s got the strength of character to do it, I’m convinced of that. But it’s not easy for him at the minute.”
Bruce doesn’t believes his team’s strikers are too young for the division.
“We’ve invested a lot of money in the two or three lads up the top end of the pitch, because you think they’re going to get better and they’re young enough and have done well enough to this stage,” said Bruce.
“Hopefully, they can improve, but it’s a big, tough learning curve, this Premier League, that’s for sure. It’s not easy at all, especially if you’re in then bottom half of the division. Who has scored any goals in the bottom half of the division? Not many.
“We know there’s room for improvement with them. They’re young – they’ll get better. It’s up to me and the coaching staff to try and bring out the best in them, and that’s what we are trying to do.
“We’ve seen them rattle them in in training. But, as a forward player these days, you’re judged on the number of goals you score, so it’s something we have to improve them.”