Steve Bruce refuses to buckle in the face of growing criticism from Newcastle supporters who say he has taken the club as far as he can and should be sacked.
Although Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner, is highly unlikely to make an imminent managerial change Bruce is well aware he must navigate stormy waters in the wake of some disappointing recent performances including a 5-2 thrashing at Leeds and a Carabao Cup quarter-final defeat against Championship side Brentford.
“Since I’ve walked through the door I’ve tried to take the club forward,” Bruce said as he prepared for a testing trio of matches at Manchester City on Saturday, followed by home dates with Liverpool and Leicester.
“It’s slow, and you have to accept that people are going to say there’s been no progress. I’d beg to differ, but people have their opinions. You have to batten down the hatches and firmly believe in what you’re doing. But I’ve been up against it before in my career. Thankfully I’ve been around the block a bit.”
Bruce suggested his detractors were mixing a shortage of realism with a lack of perspective and are ignoring the reality that Newcastle have made their best start to a top-tier season since 2011-12 when they finished fifth under Alan Pardew.
“My job’s about the accumulation of points over a 10-month season,” he said. “And if you’re with a team expected to be in the bottom half of the Premier League it’s always going to be tough. There’s going to be periods when you go up and down. Unfortunately, we’ve had a poor week. We have to accept it.”
Many Newcastle fans feel the squad are capable of better football but are constrained by Bruce’s tactics but the manager sees things differently. “The vast majority have been at the club a long time. They know what it takes. The one thing you have to have is roll your sleeves up and get on with it. You have to face the music when it comes your way; meet the challenge. I believe in what I do on the training ground.
“But the one thing I can’t level at them is a lack of commitment. Yes, we can pass the ball better. And that is the biggest disappointment. We haven’t done enough with the ball. We’ve been so slow and pedestrian with the ball.”
Bruce’s cause has not be helped by a recent coronavirus outbreak at the club. Most players are now recovered although a quartet of first-teamers remain sidelined, with the captain, Jamaal Lascelles – a central defensive mainstay – and the often catalytic winger Allan Saint-Maximin still to return to training.
“Hopefully they can rejoin the squad in the next week, two weeks maybe,” said Bruce, who in certain recent games has been able to select only one recognised central defender. “Probably Jamaal before Allan.”