A contrast of opinion
Living in the North West has ‘zero’ benefit when it comes to football, beyond the quiet joy of Sunderland’s big Merseyside game at Accrington Stanley when the Toon were gaining a point at Anfield.
I’m surrounded by Premiership ambition with a neighbourhood made up of Liverpool, Man U, Man City and Everton fans, but I hold out in a bastion of footballing hope with a black and white painted bar in my garden, slap bang in the middle of all such neighbours.
Indeed it has been the COVID football stadia of all, The Magpie Bar on the Wirral, during the depressing restrictions placed on us all due to COVID.
Now the season is over and Newcastle reflect on a difficult season with a respectable finish at 12th, matching the best premiership points tally of the popular Rafa Benitez when in the hot seat, and I’m asked by Jase the Rochdale raider, a true Man U fan, why is Steve Bruce so disliked.
It’s easy to suggest that his loyalty for Steve Bruce has a bias, but when Jay the Huyton Bad Boy and ardent Liverpool fan offers agreement of unfair treatment, then I’m compelled to listen.
Despite my claims of poor tactics, wrong team selections and an inability to match experience with youth, I’m robustly reminded that even Man City, the runaway ‘football train’ of the season, or Liverpool in their pomp last season, would have struggled if they had lost players of such significance and team importance as we did through the season.
Dubravka, despite being aptly replaced by Darlow, lost us the solidity of defence. Darlow is a great keeper but doesn’t command his area as well as Dubravka, something that became ever obvious as the games progressed.
We lost ASM who started the season slowly and just at a time of promise, was injured, then injured again and again and again and had COVID.
Almiron, ever busy, ran himself into the ground and looked often jaded and then injured, with Ryan Fraser spending more time at A and E than the cast of Casualty.
Top it off, the reliable Dummett, Lascelles and Clark falling foul of long term and intermittent injuries, with the devil in COVID destroying Fernandez’ legs, it was pretty much down to Wilson to keep scoring and offer some hope, but no wait, wasn’t he also long-term injured.
All teams suffer throughout a season, but when a team suffers longer term set backs to the ‘spine’ of the team, with an almost first choice team out injured for long periods of the season, then it is impossible to predict success.
Man City losing five such important players may still finish in the top four but they wouldn’t win the league. Liverpool lost two of the main three and floundered throughout a season of under achieved title defence and Man U lacked composure and lost ground at a key time due to the loss of key players for a short time again.
When arch rivals from Liverpool and Man U come together and offer the opinion that a fit Newcastle would be top ten, I’m forced to reflect on the results and performances of the Toon when all such players have been available or at least when the majority have been available, and results speak for themselves.
Finishing with 45 points is not acceptable but I wonder, when comparing the results without such injuries, would the Toon have finished in the top half, and I concede, very likely.
Has Steve Bruce been applauded for the finish?
Dyche at Burnley has been applauded for keeping them in the Premiership for another season, just.
Graham Potter is applauded for swashbuckling football, that almost got them relegated.
While Nuno at Wolves loses only one player, spends big and is touted as the next Spurs manager, but also finishes below Bruce’s Toon.
Yes the football has been dire at times and perhaps too pragmatic without flair.
Yes we became the whipping boys of the division for a period of time, but Bruce was bold enough to shake it up and bring in a new coach and dared to challenge and change Rafa’s brainwashed approach, bearing fruit in the end with form and results.
Steve Bruce is the marmite manager of the year. You like him or you don’t, but his ambition to succeed and dig-in is now reflected by ‘his’ team and ‘his’ tactics which has shown a different and at times exciting style of football that no one has seen at the Toon for many years before Bruce. Should we ‘give him a break’ and perhaps look toward the next season in the hope of less injuries?
I think it will be Bruce’s biggest season and perhaps the last of his career if anything less than top ten is achieved. The team has quality but lacks depth. Perhaps some players need to move on and younger hungry players provided a chance to shine.
Mike Ashley won’t splash the cash and don’t expect to see Joe Willock in black and white next season, but a fit Ryan Fraser and ASM, can be the difference in a side boosting pace. Teams will have a different respect when playing against us next season because the ethos and direction has changed. We’re becoming dangerous and can now score goals.
Steve Bruce does deserve credit and I’m certainly humble by admissions of being perhaps his only remaining fan.
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