The nervous expectation of Steve Bruce, the eerie Newcastle body language and the ‘horrible’ locker room scene – Ciaran Kelly

The nervous expectation of Steve Bruce, the eerie Newcastle body language and the 'horrible' locker room scene - Ciaran Kelly

It seemed entirely fitting that ‘Right Here, Right Now’ had come off the PA system as Newcastle United players stepped out at Amex ahead of kick-off.
If the Magpies needed a recall, it was an opportunity to make a statement and pull out of the relegation zone.

In the end, of course, the Fatboy Slim hit came to represent something very different. It was right here, at this very moment when Steve Bruce has surely reached the end of the road as Newcastle head coach.

Some Premier League managers wouldn’t even survive after an embarrassing performance like this – let alone a streak of just two wins in their last 20 games in charge.

Bruce can continue to lecture reporters about ‘point accumulation’ – 11 of 54, incidentally – but Newcastle are simply running out of time and the 60-year-old faces a nervous wait. Will his services still be needed? Surely not.

16-place Brighton didn’t just beat Black and White 3-0; Graham Potter’s side have outperformed, outperformed and outclassed their supposed relegation rivals.

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Bruce approached this game as if Newcastle collided with defending champions Man City – the visitors stood on the sidelines, allowed Brighton to dominate possession and collected only a miserable shot on target.

Brighton may also have beaten Newcastle 3-0 in the reverse game at St James’ Park in September, but what did Newcastle fear? More importantly, what did they learn from this loss of bruising? Not much it seems.

At the start of this match, Potter’s team were only one point ahead of the Magpies in the table and the Seagulls had won one match at the Amex all season. Overwhelming, Newcastle made Brighton beaters of the world.

It was all the more maddening after Leeds had beaten Fulham 24 hours before. Newcastle, of course, shouldn’t be counting on a newly promoted side to do them a favor against a relegation rival, but that’s what it came to.

Before the game Bruce insisted that “whether Fulham wins or not, we just have to go and win the game”. Well, starting a recognized attacker could have helped.

Newcastle have been working all week on how they are going to squeeze the Seagulls but worryingly there was no sign of that transplant on Saturday night. There was no sign of a complete stopping of a cohesive game plan.

Instead, we’ve seen a team that seems destined for the downfall – although somehow they’ve managed to stay out of the bottom three. For the time being.

There have been some lows this season – passing Newport on penalties, losing to Brentford and being embarrassed by the Sheffield United basement boys – but it was Bruce’s nadir.

Too often now, under this manager, players have thrown so-called “hand grenades” and Bruce’s basic demands – to overcome opposition, never give up, play with heart – were absent on Saturday night.

Newcastle would not have thrown a glove at Brighton even if Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin had been in good shape. Whatever message Bruce and his team sent to the players, their lack of meaningful response on the pitch was deeply unsettling.

This begs the question: if Blacks and Whites can’t hurt a team in this relegation battle, what hope do they have against Spurs, West Ham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leicester and Man City in the months to come?

There have been some surprising results during the pandemic, but Newcastle’s last road victory over a traditional heavy hitter, Spurs, dates back to August 2019. Likewise, in games against teams currently in the lower half, the Magpies have claimed only 16. points out of 48 possible this season.

It seemed fitting for Bruce’s side to do a show like this on a day when specialist Paul Merson spoke of Newcastle fans expecting to ‘be in the top six’ and ‘be realistic’. Is it really so much asking your team to fight Brighton, 16th?

Newcastle United's Jonjo Shelvey reacts after conceding a second goal in the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United
Newcastle United’s Jonjo Shelvey reacts after conceding a second goal in the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United

Ryan Fraser described the mood in the dressing room as ‘horrible’ after the game, but he shouldn’t expect sympathy from Newcastle fans, who watched the passive magpies chase shadows for 90 minutes.

Although the players gathered before the game, we didn’t see any of the spirit that was so essential for Black and White to recover a point in the death against Aston Villa last time around.

Usually Isaac Hayden’s horror injury in the first half or Fraser’s shot hitting the post after the break could be seen as turning points, but not in this game.

Newcastle got what they deserved and the Magpies’ weak defense in preparation for Leandro Trossard’s first game and Danny Welbeck’s second summed up their pitiful effort.

Trossard turned Ciaran Clark far too easily on the edge of the zone in the first half stoppage time and none of the Newcastle defender’s majestic teammates bothered to try to shut the Belgian off before exiting of the dead end.

Then, in the 51st minute, Welbeck cut on his right foot, escaped from Javier Manquillo and beat Martin Dubravka from afar. Tellingly, this was the first time Brighton had scored two goals from outside the box in a Premier League game.

Steve Bruce et Mike Ashley
The recent fallout from Newcastle United’s long takeover saga wasn’t just Tyneside’s talk – it was the talk of the football world.

Now Steve Bruce needs to remember his team and move forward with no change in ownership and new support.

However, the twists and turns are not over, with current owner Mike Ashley ‘considering all options’ after the Premier League rejected the £ 300million takeover.

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Bruce eventually stood up to Andy Carroll or Dwight Gayle and, minutes after Neal Maupay added a third, the Newcastle head coach turned to Sean Longstaff as he removed Miguel Almiron in the 76th minute.

It felt like a damage control exercise – Bruce’s other changes on the night were just as unimaginative when Jeff Hendrick replaced Hayden and Jacob Murphy replaced Joe Willock – and it summed up a lackluster performance.

We are really expecting too much, aren’t we?


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