Even in the context of Steve Bruce’s excruciating reign at Newcastle United, this has been an inexplicably appalling seven days.
The 5-2 drubbing against newly-promoted Leeds was simply embarrassing, while the rescued 1-1 draw at home to newly-promoted, 10-man Fulham was predictably infuriating.
Both performances demanded answers and a significant response ahead of the Carabao Cup quarter-final. Bruce completed his hat-trick of horseshit with aplomb.
He was outclassed by Thomas Frank’s Brentford side, who prioritised their promotion push so much they rested six regular starters for the fixture. Bruce named arguably the strongest side available to him, but the pre-match bookies’ favourites are the team now only two wins away from European qualification.
We can talk about tactics, game plan, philosophy (or lack thereof) endlessly, but beyond all of those key points, nobody can begin to defend the fact our Head Coach has lost the dressing room. Perhaps not in a dramatic bust-up sense (even though rumours have been rife recently), but more fundamentally why he’s demonstrably unable to motivate his players at all anymore.
This was a cup quarter-final against lower-league opposition, and we’d come off the back off two extremely unacceptable results. It was the quickest and most realistic route to silverware and European football.
Where was the fight in the players to put things right? Where has the desire been this week to stand up and be counted? I include Steve Bruce in this.
He doesn’t strike me as a manager who will actively prepare each match with more than an hour of Googling the opposition’s recent results. He doesn’t seem to learn anything about his own team from games whether we win, lose or draw.
He knows he’s lucky to have this job, so why isn’t he putting in the hard work required? It’s an insult to all of us and a waste of a dream opportunity. Like seeing the lottery winner who recklessly blows millions within a year and ends up right back where they started because they didn’t invest sensibly.
It’s pure arrogance and boy does Steve Bruce love to play the victim.
So much so that he’ll blame everybody but himself for his own failings:
- players unable to adapt to his style of play
- keyboard warriors unfairly criticising
- constant comparisons to Rafa Benitez that undermine him
- minor refereeing errors that turned the game
- bad luck with injuries
- the disproportionate weight of expectation placed on him, and any manager, by Newcastle fans
The list of Brucey bullshit is endless.
Up until recently, he’s convinced plenty of his pals in the media that he’s hard done to. That’s beginning to change and this week now feels like a major turning point in the narrative of Bruce’s 18 months on Tyneside. Or at least it should be.
His post-match comments speak vaguely about performances levels or aspects of our team. He never talks in specifics about what went wrong, and why. I genuinely believe it’s because he needs other members of his team to breakdown and tactically analyse matches for him. It would certainly explain why he’s a reactive, rather than proactive manager.
Even when we win, he won’t have a clue why.
His team selections and formations often raise eyebrows, again because many of them over the course of his stewardship haven’t made sense. He has an obsession with playing players out of position, even when players who should be playing specific roles are available.
These are all choices made by him, yet he will never hold himself accountable for the consequences. Even when he bemoans injuries (Covid-19 related absences are an exception) he fails to realise that he and his coaching staff are culpable for many. He’s simply exposing his inability to manage player fitness and conditioning.
If the squad are as disillusioned as I suspect they might be, then what use is Bruce’s personable arm-around-the-shoulder style of management? If the players don’t respect his ideas or trust his ability – there’s no recovering from that.
We already know of Bruce’s sparse strategic knowledge and inability to implement progressive ideas. In a nutshell, he ‘doesn’t do tactics’. He’s a ‘roll-the-dice’ manager who believes hoying a load of attacking players on the field without a plan instantly means we’ll become an attacking threat.
Never mind modern football, I’m not sure any football has worked like that. Even in the 1950s when the Hungarians told half of their Golden Team to go upfront, it was actually impressively pioneering and very tactically astute.
We all know the political reasons why Steve Bruce was hired in the first place, and we don’t need to indulge in those again. But currently Mike Ashley is being proactive in his pursuit of selling Newcastle United, and if he has any aspirations of handing the reigns over for the £300m sum he wants, then he should be an extremely concerned man right now.
His asset and its crucial Premier League status are on the cusp of a disastrous slide that even a competent manager might struggle to reverse given the gauntlet of forthcoming fixtures up ahead.
The statistics tell you everything you need to know.
In fact, this week has finally made those numbers logical. It’s not that we’ve suddenly had a bad week and just need to find the form and playing style from before. They’ve never really existed.
All that’s happened over the last three games is that we’ve got the results we’ve deserved, which explains why victories under Bruce have rarely been convincing and often evoke conflicting reaction from a weary fanbase.
Something we’re often collectively criticised for, despite football rarely offering up truly binary debates.
I appeared on the local news on the day Steve Bruce was hired and I was asked about the fact that #BruceOut had been trending that very day. You could argue that such animosity was uncalled for so early on, however he’s had his chance now and the sentiment hasn’t changed for me.
Nothing Steve Bruce has served up since has convinced me he’s the man to take our club forward. He used to talk about ‘pushing on’ and ‘front-foot football’, now he’s talking about ‘work in progress’.
As if he hasn’t been at the helm of this football club for a season and a half. As if he hasn’t made hundreds of terrible decisions since arriving. As if it’s all somebody else’s fault.
He knows the job is too big for him, he knows he’s lucky to be here, and he knows everything is really starting to unravel.
I’ve been very vocal in my criticism of Bruce from the start and although a small fraction of that might have been unfair, most of it hasn’t. And right now it’s 100% justified. I’ve seen quite enough of this turgid, uninspiring, stale and soul-destroying brand of football, and now more than ever I need football to excite me again. It’s the least we all deserve.
Adam Widdrington (@AddingRandomWit)