Steve Bruce has described managing his boyhood side as "the dream job", but his tenure at St. James' Park has been anything but.
The 59-year-old has had a stellar career in football, first as a player and then as a manager. He captained Manchester United to multiple trophies before guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to promotion from the Championship twice apiece, and has racked up almost 1000 games in management across nine different clubs.
However, he's often struggled when in charge of Premier League sides. Bruce has suffered relegation from the top-flight with Birmingham and Hull respectively, and was dismissed by Newcastle's rivals Sunderland with the club sitting in 16th position.
It's no wonder his appointment in the summer of 2019 to replace the departing Rafael Benitez came as somewhat of a shock to the Magpies faithful then.
Benitez was a hugely popular figure in the north east. The Spaniard has won major trophies across the continent with Valencia, Inter, Chelsea and Liverpool and brought a level of optimism to the Gallowgate End that hadn't been experienced for well over a decade.
Bruce's arrival seemed to crush that optimism in an instant, fairly or not.
It's often said in life that it's the hope that kills you. The belief that things will improve and success is just around the corner. In football, it is frequently the same. Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham fans will vouch for that over recent seasons, but try telling that to Newcastle supporters. What they would do to have just an ounce of hope again.
Newcastle and Bruce's relationship is, and always has been, a marriage of convenience rather than a unity of sincere mutual affection. Mike Ashley needed a manager willing to work on a budget under trying circumstances while he attempted to sell the club, and he found one in Bruce thanks to his Geordie roots and desire to work at the top level once more.
After guiding Newcastle to safety with relative ease in 2019/20, Bruce earned praise from a number of pundits and has continued to do so in the current campaign.
Former Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor has been a strong advocate for Bruce, recently saying on talkSPORT (via Chronicle Live): “Steve Bruce is doing a great job with the players that he has available. If they play expansive football and open football they’ll get beat 6-0 every game. He’s playing the right formation with the players that he’s got at his disposal and I think that he’s doing a great job there."
This, however, is not a view shared by the club's supporters. To suggest a side containing Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin, Ryan Fraser, Jonjo Shelvey, Jamaal Lascelles, Miguel Almiron and Jamal Lewis should be content with stacking 11 men behind the ball, sitting in a low block and breaking forward with just two or three doomed forwards hoping for a set-piece is naive at best. Farcical at worst.
The Magpies have averaged just under 38% possession in the Premier League this season and just over two shots on target per game. Their lack of press or any sort of ambition to quickly move the ball forwards fails to excite on a weekly basis, no matter who the opposition is.
Brighton, Leeds, Sheffield United, Wolves and Southampton all have much clearer and much more exciting styles and philosophies than the one Bruce has implemented at Newcastle, despite sharing similar-sized budgets and quality of players.
And yes, Sheffield United are rock bottom of the Premier League currently, but their incredible maiden season back in England's elite division was a breath of fresh air as Chris Wilder's innovative overlapping centre-backs led the Blades to ninth position. Give him a £40m forward, one of the division's most electrifying wingers, and a natural goalscorer pushing for an England recall, and watch the good times come back to St. James' Park.
The notion that Bruce is getting results that are above the sum of the parts available to him has to stop. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Nobody is suggesting they should be pushing for Europe, but to be grateful for not getting beat 6-0 every week thanks to another tactical masterclass is laughable.
In the modern era, fans quite rightly demand someone in charge with a coherent strategy and system designed to stimulate the supporter's senses. Whether it's Graham Potter's possession-based style, Ralph Hasenhuttl's persistent pressing, or Marcelo Bielsa's man-marking approach, people want to be entertained and to see ambition.
Newcastle are currently the least entertaining team showing the lowest levels of ambition.
Bruce has 18 months left on his current deal. While pundits may nudge you in the direction of Newcastle's points tally, another year-and-a-half treading water on a mind-numbing, dreary, meandering path to mediocrity is not what the club's long-suffering supporters deserve.