Newcastle Should Now Be Striving to Thrive - Not Just Survive

Tom McArdle
Dec 16, 2020, 4:30 PM GMT
Things are going quietly well at St James' Park
Things are going quietly well at St James' Park | Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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It is no secret that Steve Bruce's tenure at Newcastle United has not been the smoothest of sailing. Consistent with the rest of Mike Ashley's reign as owner, the club seems to only ever be three or four games away from a crisis.

In a season tinged with disappointment after the collapsed takeover and denial of the chance to be reunited with Rafael Benitez this summer, some Newcastle fans feared the worst. However, Bruce's side have gone about their business at the start of this season with quiet efficiency.

With 11 Premier League games played Newcastle have 17 points, nine clear of the relegation zone, and sit just three points behind Manchester City in sixth going into Wednesday night's game against Leeds. Not bad, right? (Although, admittedly, the league table still has a very early-season feel to it, with the top half separated by just five points).

A win would give the Magpies a record of having won at least half of their opening 12 matches for the first time since 2013/14, under Alan Pardew.

Pardew was the last Newcastle manager to win six of the first 12 games of the season
Pardew was the last Newcastle manager to win six of the first 12 games of the season | Ian Walton/Getty Images

It is, dare I say it, safe to say that Newcastle will not be in danger of relegation this season, with Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham already right up against it in the fight for survival. It's a welcome change from the annual scrap Toon fans have had to endure over recent seasons, particularly during the early stages of a campaign.

Since their promotion back to the top flight in 2017, Newcastle have managed 14, nine and 15 points respectively by the 12-match point of the campaign. The chance to have 20 points at this stage should be a real source of motivation for Bruce and his players, as well as a sign of the progress made. Particularly important, considering the bounds forward by teams who trailed them in the league this time last year (Aston Villa, Everton, West Ham & Southampton).

There is no hiding from the fact that Newcastle do not play the most attractive brand of football in the league, but that is not what the fans expect either. Instead, given the very solid foundations the start to this campaign has provided, Bruce should be turning away from the back five in order to play more proactive attacking football in winnable games such as these.

Steve Bruce has the chance to take the shackles off his side
Steve Bruce has the chance to take the shackles off his side | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

The infuriating narrative adopted by many pundits that Newcastle fans 'expect Champions League football' is, in itself, delusional. Yes, there has certainly been a fall from grace having previously been regulars in Europe, but even the most optimistic members of the Toon Army know that is something only a takeover would potentially restore.

What does bother fans - epitomised by the appointment of Bruce and the previously public declaration that cup runs were 'not a priority' that has only recently been dropped - is the club's apparent insistence on stagnation.

How can fans be blamed for feeling alienated when their own club is telling them the only aim for the year is to maintain their Premier League status? A more attacking display against Leeds with the shackles off would be a welcome start for many supporters.

Cup runs were not labelled a 'priority' by the club
Cup runs were not labelled a 'priority' by the club | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Speaking after Saturday's 2-1 win over lowly West Brom, Bruce admitted that heavy recent investment now needed delivering upon.

"We've mustered a fair chunk of money on the top end of the pitch because its the vitally important part," he said, speaking in the wake of Dwight Gayle's 82nd-minute winner. "We've got a decent array which hopefully will see us through."

He's right. It is a decent array at his disposal. Certainly far superior to that available to the now-axed Slaven Bilic of West Brom. When Allan Saint-Maximin returns from injury, the potential front four of Miguel Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton and Callum Wilson adds up to £100m of talent.

The excuse that no money is ever spent is now null and void, bringing with it another issue; results must follow. 14 points after 12 games under Benitez in 2017 was alright because there was a feeling of building towards something with predominantly the same squad that had been in the Championship.

Benitez was a fan favourite at Newcastle
Benitez was a fan favourite at Newcastle | Alex Broadway/Getty Images

There has never been that same feeling with regard to Bruce at the helm. He is now in charge of undoubtedly the best team Newcastle have had since their promotion, so should be bettering statistical comparisons to Rafa's newly-promoted, and far inferior team.

With more proven Premier League quality than ever in the likes of Wilson, Saint Maximin, Jamaal Lascelles and other slow burners like Joelinton and Almiron, the rest of this season is the perfect opportunity to take the handbrake off and show what they can do.

With that newfound freedom, alongside progress to an EFL semi-final if Brentford can be dispatched later this month, fans may find themselves giving Bruce the love he craves.

Surviving is no longer enough. Although a crisis is only ever three games away at St James' Park, a win against Leeds would make it three wins on the bounce - the perfect platform to build upon.

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