Steve Bruce stopped the rot at Newcastle and deserves another chance?

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Assistant coach Graeme Jones and manager Steve Bruce celebrate Newcastle's win at Burnley



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Steve Bruce praises the impact of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin

Steve Bruce’s Sunday lunch was almost spoiled last weekend when Aleksandar Mitrovic scored for Fulham to temporarily send Newcastle back to the relegation zone.

But the Magpies were back as Bruce got stuck in his “apple and custard pie” thanks to Aston Villa’s 3-1 win.

This Sunday, it was Allan Saint-Maximin who served a treat by scoring and scoring a goal in a 2-1 sur Burnley which puts Newcastle six points from danger.

On a frigid day when Turf Moor was surrounded by April snow, it felt like a watershed moment in Newcastle’s season that swung from one crisis to the next.

In addition to the looming prospect of a takeover, there has been a coronavirus outbreak, injuries to several key players, leaks from the training ground, accusations that Bruce lost the locker room, and bans for local journalists.

For many fans who grew tired of Bruce and the way his team play, it was as if the team were ‘sleepwalking towards relegation’ as the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust described it.

But through it all, Bruce retained the backing of owner Mike Ashley, and following last week’s unexpected draw against Tottenham, Saint-Maximin helped secure a first victory in 26 Premier League games where Newcastle had conceded the first.

They are not safe just yet, but Fulham’s momentum has abated, giving Newcastle a chance to break out of the last three and perhaps even wonder if Bruce can bring the club back to where fans think they are. ‘it belongs.

Allan Saint-Maximin had set a goal and scored himself within seven minutes of his introduction against Burnley

Newcastle “a different animal” with Saint-Maximin and Wilson

Ever since Newcastle were dragged into relegation thanks to poor form at the end of the year, Bruce has liked to talk about a “point accumulation” in an effort to avoid the fall.

Sunday’s win over Burnley was only their third in 20 Premier League games, but the real damage was done in December and January when they failed to win in nine matches. Add a detrimental Carabao Cup quarter-final loss to Brentford and fans began to demand a change of direction.

The appointment of assistant coach Graeme Jones of Bournemouth and a change in tactics led to an improvement, with Newcastle losing four of their last 11 league games.

The three wins in that streak have all featured Wilson and Saint-Maximin, two of whom came in three games before they both were injured.

After helping to set up Jacob Murphy’s equalizer at Turf Moor and then his dazzling winner, Bruce said of Saint-Maximin: “Probably only Allan could have done that, and when you see games like that, you see what we missed.

“I hope we can keep Callum and Allan well because we are a different animal with them on the team. “

Statistics confirm this. Newcastle haven’t won any of the four matches neither player has played in and only won two of the 18 matches only one of the pair has played, an 11% win rate.

With the two on the side, however, they have won six of 13 games for a win rate of 46%.

Individually, it is even more austere. With Wilson out in nine league games, Newcastle have won none. With Saint-Maximin absent, it is two victories in 13 matches.

Keeping the pair in shape will be critical to Newcastle’s success this season and next.

Assistant coach Graeme Jones and manager Steve Bruce celebrate Newcastle’s win at Burnley

Should Bruce have next season to prove himself?

Bruce admitted to finding this season ‘testing’ but highlighted his ’20 years’ experience in management and recent results show the team retain a fighting spirit to stay in the division despite a nadir at Brighton.

A recent poll in a local newspaper showed that 95% of fans want a change in leadership, and his methods have constantly been under the microscope, ranging from his tactics to giving players days off.

The injuries inflicted on key players such as Saint-Maximin and Jamaal Lascelles, both of whom suffered from coronavirus sequelae, as well as Wilson and Isaac Hayden have all been significant. In a normal season, questions may be valid on training methods, although most of the issues arose during games.

Yet this season has been anything but normal. A lack of preseason and a shortened campaign meant games were almost constant and many other teams suffered from similar injury issues.

Add in a lack of fans, which has affected every club but can often make a difference at St James’ Park, and it’s hard to judge how Bruce fared.

As a Newcastle fan, he knows that surviving in the Premier League is not enough. But with Wilson and Saint-Maximin a success in form and a mid-season boost to a more offensive style of play, there have been signs of progress in the gloom.

Bruce recently said he hopes to be in charge next season, although he accepts that the decision is not up to him. Much may depend on the timeliness of the takeover, with Ashley still keen to sell to a Saudi-backed consortium, which has remained silent.

Whatever Bruce’s future may be, there are huge issues to be resolved at Newcastle, from the structure of the board of directors to the club’s ambition and the role of supporters. They are unlikely to be resolved with a change of manager.

Bruce, who led Newcastle to the 13th term last, could argue he deserves another season to prove himself in the face of a campaign fraught with unprecedented challenges.

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