Steve Bruce, Newcastle United, Newcastle Takeover, Mike Ashley

Steve Bruce – The Good, The Bad, The Verdict & The Rating

Premier League

Before diving in, let’s review the highlight of the season.

Now that the most important part of this article is out of the way, let’s have a look at Steve Bruce’s first season in charge of Newcastle United.

I know this is a subjective topic, so before I give my own opinion, I do acknowledge there are strong sentiments on either side of the aisle. I had asked my Twitter followers for their thoughts on Steve Bruce this season and had plenty of responses. There was everything from ‘really good’ to ‘utterly awful’. I believe both sides made decent arguments for and against Bruce’s performance this season, so just to reiterate, this is just my opinion.

In addition, I think it’s worth discussing the environment at Newcastle United under this current ownership – irrespective of who the manager is. In the last 13 years, Newcastle have had some decent managers and a surfeit of poor ones – but one thing has remained constant throughout, inept ownership.

As Kevin Keegan famously said “Newcastle are a real one-off. I don’t know of a club that has been run as badly or with such disregard for people…” additionally Alan Shearer has said “There is a lot of unrest in Newcastle because the life and soul really has been sucked out of Newcastle United…”. Given the foundation at the club, it almost doesn’t even matter who United have as a manager/head coach at United – if the ownership is faulty, the club can never progress.

It doesn’t suffice to say that the synergies between management and ownership are non-existent; managing Newcastle United is like trying to sail a ship with a massive hole in the hull. Eventually, the bucket you’re armed with won’t manage emptying out all the sea water flooding in. Ultimately, managing this club doesn’t just simply boil down to tactics and substitutions. There is added bureaucratic baggage that comes with this job that has rightfully earned it the status of a ‘poisoned chalice’. So, when reviewing Bruce’s managerial performance, it behooves oneself to keep this in mind, as handing out a verdict without this context is futile.

The Good

Newcastle United are still in the Premier League next season. It’s awful that this is the standard for the club, but it is.  Many did favour the Magpies to both get relegated this season as well as for Bruce to get the sack – neither happened. Even with the best manager in the world, I highly doubt, with this squad, that Newcastle could finish in the top 8. On the other hand, I believe a really poor manager would have easily gotten the club relegated. Newcastle fans cannot overlook that Bruce did in fact defy the odds set against him from the onset and he should be duly credited for it.

Additionally, Steve Bruce’s man-management skills, his most powerful asset, were on display this season. I know this doesn’t necessarily make him a great manager, but it can be vital in the development of players and team morale. United’s star, Allan Saint-Maximin recently spoke about the amazing impact Bruce has had on him and I believe this boils down to Bruce’s wonderful ability to connect with his players. Bruce is also extremely loyal & forgiving with his team selection, this worked both for and against him this season. A positive example was his persistence with Manquillo, who I believe was one of the more improved players in the squad.

Steve Bruce, Newcastle United, Newcastle Takeover, Mike Ashley
Getty Images

The Bad

Steve Bruce was extremely slow to make desperately needed changes throughout the course of the season. This could be seen in two main facets. Firstly, was his perseverance with Joelinton. Unlike Manquillo, Big Jo failed to deliver the goods time and time again. Fans were desperately hoping for Newcastle United’s record signing to adapt and start scoring but it just never came to fruition. In all fairness, this was compounded by poor tactics, where he found himself completely isolated up front for most parts of the season. His goal tally ended on a measly 2 goals, and after spending £40m on him, ‘disappointed’ is the mildest superlative one could use in describing the outcome. It was only after the restart did Bruce switch to Dwight Gayle and it duly paid dividends. He ended up with 4 goals and 2 assists from 9 starts which was a much better return than what the Brazilian offered.

Secondly, the tactics and style of play were subpar. Newcastle played some horrendous football this season, it’s hard to look past this. The persistence of setting up with 5 at the back led to some of the worst performances seen in a while; Manchester City and Leicester are two matches that spring to mind. Bruce also demonstrated himself as largely reactive as opposed to proactive in his use of substitutions. What is meant by that, is that he seldom used his subs to change a game, but rather waited for the game to change and then subsequently brought on players.

To his credit, Bruce did eventually (although not entirely) move away from the back 5 to a back 4 and saw an immediate impact. Our best performances of the season were played with this setup.

The Verdict

Steve Bruce summed up this season in one word, “Okay”, and I tend to agree with him. For many who think it’s been terrible, I hear you and there is grounding for your claim. However, I believe that Newcastle finishing 13th and staying up cannot be overlooked given the circumstances. Had I asked you at the start of this season where United would have finished, I am not too sure many would have suggested anything higher than 15th. Yes, the tactics have been poor for the lion’s share of the season and the style has been tedious, but Newcastle are still in the Premier League and have reached their target – one which has been drastically lowered over the past 13 years.

The Rating

Taking all of this into account, and given the circumstances of the club, Toon Talk gives Steve Bruce a rating of 5.5/10 this season.

Newcastle vs Watford, Newcastle United, Watford Football Club, Premier League

Player Ratings: Watford 2 – 1 Newcastle United (11/07/2020)

Premier League

Disappointing result for Newcastle United at Vicarage Road, as Watford come from behind to beat United 2-1. After what was a promising start for the Magpies with a Dwight Gayle goal in the 23rd minute, Watford slowly but surely took a hold of the game and ended up with the victory.

Both goals for Watford came from the penalty spot, the first one less blatant than the second. Nonetheless, after going down in the 23rd minute, Nigel Pearson’s side looked far more composed and dangerous until the final whistle. Contrastingly, Newcastle looked progressively worse and complacent as the game went on – some questionable substitutions and tactics will no doubt be on the mind of plenty of the Toon Army.

So without further ado, here are your match ratings.

Martin Dubravka: 7/10

Conceded two penalty goals which he can hardly be blamed for. Guessed the right way the second time but didn’t manage to get a hand to it.

Javier Manquillo: 4.5/10

The weakest performance he has had since the return of football. He has looked decent until Watford, but gave away a very silly penalty that ended up costing United the game. He’ll be looking to bounce back against Tottenham on Wednesday!

Jamaal Lascelles: 7.5/10

Defence looks far more structured and solidified when he is on the pitch. Put in an incredible goal line clearance and tried to motivated his players throughout the game. Most notably were his words with Danny Rose whose complacency almost cost Newcastle United a goal.

Federico Fernandez: 5/10 (Assist)

Despite getting an assist, it was one of his poorer performances in the Black & White. Made a few errors and looked a bit hesitant at times which isn’t common for Federico.

Danny Rose: 5/10

Still not managing to find his feet at Newcastle. Working hard but it hasn’t clicked just yet, another average display from Rose.

Fabian Schar: 5.5/10

In all honesty, it’s hard to understand why he was being played in the midfield. Looked well off the pace and out of position a number of times. Hardly to blame as CDM/Sweeper is clearly not ideal for him.

Jonjo Shelvey: 5.5/10

Another sub-par performance from Shelvey. His consistency has always been the main point of criticism rallied against him and his last two performances have given weight to that claim. No doubt, he missed his partner Isaac Hayden who brings stability to the mid and the opportunity for Shelvey to move further forward. I believe this is the last Shelvey/Schar partnership we’ll see this season.

Matt Ritchie: 4.5/10

Doesn’t look his usual self and although he is working hard, he has been rather sloppy of late. Gave away the first penalty and didn’t look very threatening at all. As one of the leaders in the team, he’ll need to pick up his game.

Allan Saint-Maximin: 6/10

Doesn’t look fully rested. Had one or two nice runs and completed 4 dribbles in the match but wasn’t able to completely run riot as he normally does. He was tightly marked by Watford, and the fact that he found himself isolated so often didn’t help.

Miguel Almiron: 5.5/10

Worked hard as always but lacked the final product. He has been moved around a bit and a question being asked is ‘what is his correct position’?

Dwight Gayle: 7.5/10 (Goal)

Gayle slotted him from close in the 23rd minute as his hard work and finishing has earned him a well-deserved starting spot. He has now scored 3 goals in 5 games and will be hoping to add onto it as he continues to receive more game time.

Substitutes (Must play over 20 minutes to receive a rating)

Bentaleb: N/A
Joelinton: N/A
Krafth: N/A
Lazaro:N/A

Player Ratings: Manchester City 5 – 0 Newcastle United (08/07/2020)

Premier League

Woeful from Newcastle United. As a result, the match commentary will be short as there isn’t much to say. United are safe from the drop but somehow keep reverting back to old tactics that just don’t seem to work.  

It was like watching the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan – an absolute butchery.

So without further ado, here are your match ratings…

Martin Dubravka: 5.5/10

Horrible night to be a Newcastle United Goalkeeper. Made 5 saves and one of those was a fantastic effort to deny David Silva.

DeAndre Yedlin: 3.5/10

A night to forget for DeAndre! Stand out statistic was a 45% pass competition rate – not his finest.

Emil Krafth: 4.5/10

Played out of position at Centre-Back, which is bizarre after his fantastic performances at wing back the last 2 games. Looked a bit out of sorts for a large part of the game, hardly his fault.

Federico Fernandez: 3.5/10

Worst performance in a Newcastle jersey for some time. Ended up scoring an own goal, which he can’t be blamed for – but positional play was all over the place.

Danny Rose: 5/10

Made the most tackles last evening with 4 in total. Tried to create space out wide and worked hard. Still yet to win over Newcastle fans as he tries to secure his future at the club.

Fabian Schar: 3.5/10

Arguably one of United’s most talented players – but he looks well off the player he was before the virus hit. Playing like he wants out and could be seen casually trotting back whilst Man City scored their second of the night. Won’t be surprised if he leaves in the transfer window.

Jonjo Shelvey: 4/10

Forgettable night for Jonjo (as well as the whole team). Played further up the pitch but gave the ball away far too easily – once actually leading to a goal being conceded. A pity, as he has played superbly the last few matches.

Nabil Bentaleb: 4/10

Couldn’t seem to find any rhythm and looked awfully disjointed at times. Made a few good tackles but costed United for their 5th conceded goal of the evening.  

Valentino Lazaro: 4.5/10

Does work hard and had one or two good dribbles but dispossessed for United’s second concession of the evening. He has the ability but has yet to find his feet.

Matt Ritchie: 4/10

Didn’t look himself and maybe because he has just come back from injury.

Joelinton: 4.5/10

Another lonely afternoon for big Jo. Completely isolated up top and can hardly be blamed for not producing anything magical.

Substitutes (Must play over 20 minutes to receive a rating)

Manquillo: 5/10 (66′ minute sub)
Arrived on the pitch to an onslaught.

Dwight Gayle: 4.5/10 (66′ minute sub)
Not sure if he even touched the ball.

Matty Longstaff: 8/10 (66′ minute sub)
Nothing to report on.

Christian Atsu: N/A
Yoshinori Muto: N/A

Player Ratings: Newcastle United 4 – 1 Bournemouth (01/07/2020)

Premier League
Newcastle United, Bournemouth, Premier League, Dwight Gayle, Allan Saint-Maximin
Dwight Gayle scores his 100th Career Goal

WOW. What else can be said? That was by far Newcastle United’s best performance of the season. An absolute stellar display of football accompanied by some extraordinary goals. United were passing the ball around like it was Barcelona 2011 – one could observe the two touch football that was being played for the lion’s share of the game. Countless times the cry “PASS IT” was hurled from the side-line as Steve Bruce was encouraging his side to move the ball around.

A new paragraph must be initiated here to honour and bestow a massive amount of credit upon Steve Bruce and what he has done. A change in tactics just before the lockdown has seen his Magpie side go undefeated in 5 Premier League games, amassing 11 points from a possible 15. Now, this may not seem special if you’re not a Newcastle fan – but if you have been supporting this club for some time, you’ll accept that it’s not a common occurrence.

So without further ado, here are your match ratings.

Martin Dubravka: 8/10

Not a busy afternoon for the honourable Geordie goal-stopper. He’ll be frustrated with Newcastle conceding a goal in the 93rd minute but not his fault by any means. Nonetheless, rock solid from Dubravka – what an asset he is to this club.

Javier Manquillo: 8.5/10

A player who keeps improving as each week goes by! Solid performance from Manquillo who worked that flank up and down. Showing more diversity to his game as he completed 2 dribbles and had an 89% pass completion rate. He has earned his renewed contract at the club!

Jamaal Lascelles: 8/10

Our skipper is constantly improving, this is evidenced by another decent performance. He keeps that back line in shape and is a real cornerstone for this team. Lascelles is developing as a leader and most certainly has the respect of his team mates and fans alike. No doubt he’ll be pleased with the way his team performed last night!

Federico Fernandez: 8/10

Arguably Newcastle’s best CB at the moment. Started the season off with not even making the bench and has now clawed his way back into being one of the first names on the team sheet. What is noticeable, is passion for the shirt and his desire to win – something that is ALWAYS well received on Tyne side. Brilliant performance from the Argentinian.

Emil Krafth: 8/10

A surprise selection but didn’t disappoint. Made the most tackles out of the back four (3) and worked that right flank brilliantly, often linking up well with Allan Saint-Maximin. He has improved drastically since his first few performances and here’s to hoping he continues to improve!

Nabil Bentaleb: 8.5/10

An unsung hero last night, for what was an incredible performance! Worked hard the whole evening, making the most tackles in the team (5) and sharing the spoils for highest pass completion rate with 89%. He needed this performance and he should be well pleased with himself!

Jonjo Shelvey: 8.5/10 (Assist)

This man can. pass. a. ball. Really enjoyable to see Jonjo spraying the ball around and it looked like he was having fun out there. Aside from getting an assist one thing that stood out yesterday was his passion. It seems like Newcastle United has continued to grow on him and he could be at the club for some time!

Sean Longstaff: 8.5/10 (Goal)

Very unfortunate to get injured in the 33rd minutes as was having an incredible game. Won the ball back which initiated the play for Gayle’s goal and also produced a lovely finish after some mesmerising dribbling from Allan Saint-Maximin. Hopefully the local lad continues to get better and better!

Allan Saint-Maximin: 10/10 (3x Assists) – Man of the Match

It’s hard to describe this man! What a remarkable performance from a very, very special player. Dribbling aside, ASM is an incredibly intelligent football player. Just observe the runs he makes in and between the lines, how he is able to pull players out of position creating space for others – it’s an often overlooked part of his game. Newcastle are going to struggle to keep hold of this talent. 3x Man of the Match awards and all thoroughly deserved!

Joelinton: 8/10

Was much better out wide in a supporting position. Looked far more comfortable and it definitely suits him to NOT be isolated up top. Worked as hard as ever and just an overall solid performance from the lad! He’ll take a lot of confidence from this performance and it may very well see Steve Bruce move him out wide permanently, or at least not have him up top alone.

Dwight Gayle: 8.5/10 (Goal)

After missing a sitter against Manchester City, Gayle most certainly redeemed himself with a wonderful & composed finish after receiving a pass from ASM. It was also his 100th career goal, so ultimately a very special evening for him. He has now scored 2 goals in 2 Premier League matches and is most certainly knocking on the door for consistent game time! Very happy for him and he’ll be hoping to finish the season with more goals to his name!

Substitutes (Must play over 20 minutes to receive a rating)

Almiron: 8.5/10 (33′ minute sub) Goal
Came on in the 33rd minute and had a fantastic performance scoring marvellous goal for Newcastle’s third. Was a fantastic performance from Miggy and well deserved as his hard work pays off!

Carroll: 7/10 (62′ minute sub)
Solid performance from the local lad. Came on and worked hard from the moment his boots hit that pitch. Won 5 aerial duels and was unlucky not to score after good link up play with Shelvey!

Valentino Lazaro: 8/10 (62′ minute sub) Goal
The young man’s best performance in a black & white shirt thus far! Used his pace very cleverly down the right flank and scored an absolute cracker. Moments after scoring he also hit the post with another thunderous strike! Exciting revelations from him!

Isaac Hayden: N/A
DeAndre Yedlin: N/A

Allan Saint-Maximin terrorises Bournemouth players

Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Premier League

Player Ratings: Newcastle United 1 – 1 Aston Villa (24/06/2020)

Premier League

Newcastle United took on Aston Villa at home after a well earned victory at St James’ Park on the weekend against Sheffield United. Going into this game Aston Villa find themselves in 19th place and staring down the barrel of relegation having only 26 points. Newcastle, on the other hand are looking to be clear of relegation this season sitting 13th on 38 points.

The first half was a fairly dull affair. Villa looked slightly better, creating a few more chances with 11 goal attempts to Newcastle’s 5. ASM was by far United’s most threatening player, never shy to attack and take on players.

The second half saw Newcastle come out the blocks a bit better as they started to threaten Villa. Carroll and Gayle were brought on for Joelinton and Ritchie respectively and made an immediate impact. One minute after coming on, Gayle gave Newcastle United the lead after a receiving a stunning pass from Carroll who did immensely well to get control of a loose ball.

Unfortunately for United, Villa drew level from an Elmohamady header. One of Newcastle United’s best players, goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, made a hash of this as it was most definitely saveable. This led to a deadlock result at 1-1, leaving Newcastle one point off the much desired 40 point mark and Aston Villa lingering second last on 29 points.

Martin Dubravka: 5.5/10

Quiet afternoon for the lions-share of the game for Dubravka, until the 83rd minute came. A flick-on header from Elmohamady fell low and Dubravka failed to deal with it, essentially forfeiting 2 points for United. A mistake he’ll want to forget, nonetheless, a key player for Newcastle going forward.

Javier Manquillo: 6.5/10

Solid afternoon for Manquillo. Worked the flank well and put in a shift as always. One or two passing errors as Newcastle looked slightly disjointed at times.

Jamaal Lascelles: 7/10

Skipper had a decent game with only one poor clearance coming to mind. Commanding in the air and will be disappointed that Newcastle aren’t walking away with all 3 points. Picked up a yellow in the 59th minute.

Federico Fernandez: 6.5/10

Looking a formidable CB partner with Lascelles. Some great clearing headers and solid tackling from the Argentinian. Picked up a yellow in the 74th minute.

Danny Rose: 6.5/10

Danny Rose had a better afternoon today. Some great link up play with Almiron, one almost leading to a great opportunity had Miggy passed back to Rose. Hopefully, he will find his feet at United and start delivering performances he is capable of.

Isaac Hayden: 7/10

One of Newcastle United’s best players. A real cornerstone for this team. To the passerby, he may seem like he is not doing much – but this lad puts in the hard graft. Made some crunching tackles today and held the ball up nicely. A bit worried to see him limping off in the 86th minute before a massive Cup quarter against Man City on Sunday.

Jonjo Shelvey: 6/10

Villa made a concerted effort to lock up Shelvey this afternoon. He was tightly marked from the get go and had little influence over the game. Still managed to put in one or two decent passes for United, but overall a quiet afternoon for Jonjo.

Matt Ritchie: 6.5/10

Ritchie, along with ASM, were our most exciting players going forward today. He looks like he is enjoying himself in the left of the midfield. As always, puts in a shift and had one or two lovely crosses today. Ritchie was subbed in the 67th for Gayle.

Allan Saint-Maximin: 7.5/10

Newcastle’s most dangerous player by a country mile. ASM continues to wow football fans with his dazzling runs and his ability to glide past opposing players. A bargain he was for £16m – there is A LOT more to come from this very special player. Had another good afternoon, giving the Villa players plenty to worry about. United will need him at his best for Sunday’s Cup game.

Miguel Almiron: 6/10

Not Miggy’s best afternoon. Looked sloppy at times and missed one or two opportunities to play his teammates who were making runs in and behind the defence. Nonetheless, worked hard and will hopefully continue to improve.

Joelinton: 6/10

Another goalless afternoon for Joelinton. Holds the ball up well and makes some tidy runs into space, just can’t seem to find the back of the net. Had one good opportunity that was blocked by Mings with some excellent defending.

Substitutes (Must play over 15 minutes to receive a rating)

Carroll (64′) : 8/10

Was fantastic from the get go. Held the ball up lovely and was brilliant in assisting Gayle for the goal. Controlled it nicely and then played a lovely pass through to Gayle, who duly finished it. A possible start for the local lad on Sunday in the Cup quarters?

Gayle (67′): 8/10

Was as energetic as always! Made an immediate impact, scoring 90 seconds after coming on. Collected a fantastic passes from Carroll and then seamlessly buried the ball beyond the keeper into the bottom left hand corner. You could see by his celebration how much that goal meant to him. Does he deserve more game time for United?

Bentaleb (86′): N/A
Lazaro (86′): N/A