Newcastle played out a disappointing 0-0 draw with Oxford United on Saturday which prevented them from making the fifth round of the FA Cup yet again, but Chris Sutton had words of support for Steve Bruce afterwards.
It has been a difficult campaign for Bruce at St. James’ Park due to fan unrest and a terrible injury situation hindering his options on the pitch, but despite that, the team is in a healthy position.
The Magpies still have a good chance to make the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2006, and since they sit seven points above the relegation zone they should be able to field a strong side in the replay against the U’s.
Bruce also had to take over in difficult circumstances from a manager who was very popular on Tyneside, but so far there is no sign of a hangover, and players like Jonjo Shelvey and Miguel Almiron seem to like playing under him, with five and four goals respectively this season.
In his column for the Daily Mail, Sutton wrote:
“I applaud him for playing a strong team. They remain in with a shot of reaching the fifth round for the first time since 2006 and are 14th in the Premier League, with 30 points from 24 games.
“So it is not all doom and gloom. At the same stage last season, Rafa Benitez rang the changes and Newcastle were dumped out 2-0 in the fourth round by Watford at home. They were also 14th but only had 24 points by comparison.
“Bruce may not be Benitez but he has exceeded the expectations of the majority of supporters. He is doing a steady job and does not deserve to have negativity levelled at him on a weekly basis.”
Newcastle have picked up some very impressive results this campaign, most notably the draw against Manchester City and the win over Chelsea, both coming at home.
However, for every positive there has been a negative too, and the lack of consistency with defeats away at Norwich and Aston Villa mean that Bruce has still come under scrutiny from sections of the fanbase.
The latest news coming out of Newcastle suggests Bruce has some work to do to convince people that he is the right man for the job, namely Saudi Public Investment Fund, who are rumoured to be taking over the club.
As part of their takeover they are reportedly looking to former manager Rafa Benitez to return to St. James’ Park, with the aim to replace Bruce at the end of the season.
That would be harsh on the current incumbent. As Sutton alludes to he hasn’t done a lot wrong and made the most of a difficult situation, giving him the right to prove himself over the remainder of the season without speculation arising about his future.
If he progresses in the cup he will be able to achieve something that numerous past managers have failed to do, and if he also keeps Newcastle safe from the drop then it will be a successful season overall.
Elsewhere, Newcastle supporters have been reacting to a £25m target who has been linked to the club.