Mike Ashley will be heading for his biggest mistake at Newcastle United if he decides against firing Steve Bruce following Tuesday night’s shameful 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United.
The Toon earned themselves the discomfiting honour of becoming the first Premier League side to lose to Chris Wilder’s Blades this season thanks to a second-half penalty converted by Billy Sharp, after Federico Fernandez was adjudged to have handled the ball inside Karl Darlow’s box.
Defeat at Bramall Lane left the Magpies just eight points above the drop zone, while having played two games more than 18th-placed Fulham and one more than 16th-placed Burnley, with the result also extending the North East giant’s top-flight winless run to six games.
Pressure is now mounting on Ashley to part company with Bruce a year-and-a-half on from his arrival as Rafa Benitez’s successor, with some fans demanding the 60-year-old is fired, having seen the Magpies bow out of the Carabao Cup and FA Cup in the space of just 18 days.
With a second trip to Arsenal in the space of less than two weeks to come on Monday night, Bruce will be returning to the Emirates with his back up against the wall, knowing the howls of angst from supporters will only grow with yet another defeat in north London.
The Toon boss is not prepared to walk away, however, as the boyhood Magpies fan has vowed to fight for his position after the disappointing defeat.
“I’ll never ever walk away from a challenge,” he said, via quotes by Sky Sports. “I’ve been in it long enough to have that respect, but I understand – especially watching the first-half – we weren’t good enough and I take the responsibility for that, because I picked the team.
“I think we’ve had, apart from the last month which we knew would be difficult with the run of fixtures we’ve had, we’ve given ourselves a decent start to the season.”
Newcastle barely laid a hand on Sheffield United during their awful night in South Yorkshire, with a five-at-the-back system far too defensive and without any clear cohesion in the engine room, with Ryan Fraser and Sean Longstaff initially fielded as two false number 10s.
Fraser’s reckless two yellow cards in the space of three minutes threw Bruce’s plans out of the window just before half-time, and things failed to improve much after that with the Toon taking just four shots, enjoying a measly 28.4% of the possession and completing a dismal 58% of their mere 106 total passes in the second period, per WhoScored.
Their performance was hardly out of the norm, either, as Newcastle rank second-last for total shots taken per game (8.8) last for average possession (41.4%), 18th for pass success (75.1%). However, it can’t really be argued that these poor attacking stats are the case of the Magpies being extra solid at the back, as the numbers prove that they are anything but sold.
Thus season, they’ve allowed, on averages the second-most amount of opposition shots on goal (15), only West Brom (16.2) allow more. Furthermore, Newcastle have conceded the fourth-most goals from open play (16), per WhoScored, despite Karl Darlow’s often excellent performances in goal.
So, Bruce’s side don’t attack well and they aren’t exactly solid at the back either, so, what exactly is the manager bringing to the table? His side not being able to attack is one reason to sack him and the fact they don’t really defend well is definitely another.
If Ashley does not take decisive action on Bruce’s position soon, he will be setting the course for another big mistake at Newcastle by allowing United to sleepwalk toward yet another relegation.