At the weekend, Steve Bruce and his Newcastle United side picked up yet another win, taking them to ninth in the table at Christmas. The form of the Magpies has gained a lot of praise from fans and pundits alike – remarkable considering how furious the Geordie faithful were at the appointment of Bruce. Are the Toon Army finally starting to warm to the former Sunderland boss?
How does this season compare to previous?
As mentioned above, United currently sit ninth in the Premier League table, just three points away from the top five. On 25 points already, Bruce and his side need just five more wins to reach the magic 40 point mark – generally considered to all but guarantee survival. As it stands, Newcastle are 10 points above the drop zone and are starting to look up the table rather than at what’s behind.
At the same stage in the season last year, Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle side were 15th in the table, on 17 points and five points above the drop zone. After 18 games in the 2017/18 season, Newcastle were in the relegation zone and on just 15 points – ten less than they are this time around.
In fact, you actually have to go back to the 2013/14 season to find a season where Newcastle were in a better position after 18 games. That year, United sat on 33 points after the same amount of games and were just six points off the top of the league. Under Alan Pardew, Newcastle eventually went on to finish in tenth place on 49 points – a total I imagine everyone associated with the club would be very happy with this year.
How has he done it?
With the low block defensive tactics, Newcastle haven’t exactly won a lot of friends this season – frustrating just about every opponent they’ve played against immensely. After the last two games at St James’ Park, the opposing fans have been very critical of Bruce and his tactics – but his “ugly football” picked up the win in both games.
The tactics have caused something of a divide among the fans at Newcastle too – with some fans just happy it’s working regardless of the style, and others not so happy with the lack of entertainment on offer.
In the first few months of the league, Newcastle are:
- 19th in shots
- 19th for goals inside the box
- 20th for xG
- 20th for touches inside the opposition box
- 20th for average possession
- 20th in corners earned
- 19th for crosses into the area
Those stats make for pretty grim reading and, if Newcastle had been struggling to stay afloat right now, you’d understand the frustration from certain sections of the fan base. Given that they’re in the top half – all of those stats mean diddly squat.
So far this season, Bruce has masterminded victories over the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. There’s also been a very decent point against the reigning champions Manchester City as well as numerous hard fought wins against the likes of high-flying Sheffield United, Bournemouth and West Ham.
Currently, United sit fourth in the Premier League form table, ahead of Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Sheffield United. The form shown so far has been massive, especially considering the fixture list Bruce has to contend with. In the next six league games, Newcastle play Man United, Everton, Leicester, Wolves, Chelsea and Everton again.
For the most part, the reaction from the fans in recent weeks has been one of overwhelming positivity. The biggest issue with Steve Bruce’s appointment on Tyneside wasn’t that he’s a former Sunderland boss, not that he’s a Manchester United legend – it was that he was seen as a poor replacement for a Champions League winning manager.
Newcastle went from having one of the best managers in the world to having someone who had spent the last four years in the second tier. It wasn’t just a step down, it was like falling off a cliff. The fans, upon his appointment, branded him the “new (Steve) McClaren” and were 100% sure that relegation loomed.
However, given that this season, Bruce has won one point more in 18 games than McClaren managed in the 28 he managed shows that the boyhood Geordie has made a sheer mockery of that tag. It’s fair to say that while many are still skeptical, especially given the style of play, most of the Toon Army are joyfully eating a slice of humble pie right now…
What do you make of Steve Bruce at Newcastle this season? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.