I’ll be honest, I was absolutely devastated last summer when Rafa Benitez’s exit was followed by the appointment of Steve Bruce.
I was concerned how the players would react to what seemed like swapping Champions League for Championship and ambition for second best.
I regularly flagged up stats that showed how Bruce had the second poorest win rate of all Premier League managers to have take 250+ games in the Premier League, had been relegated twice and had a points-per-game record that was even better by Steve McClaren upon his arrival.
I’ll be honest, I was adamant we were going down.
I thought we had a half decent squad on paper and felt Allan Saint-Maximin could be an exciting signing, but feared we may become a team of individuals again – not a unit that were motivated by a Rafa Benitez project that gave both players and fans hope that something good could be on the horizon.
The bookies had us odds on to go down and the majority of Newcastle fans feared they’d be right, with those feelings being emphasised after that appalling 3-1 defeat at Norwich in our first away game of the new season.
We looked totally lost that day and all at sea in every department imaginable. Yet, almost a year on from his appointment and several months on from that miserable day in East Anglia, I am happy to have eaten my words.
I maintain that most of the football we’ve watched this season has been tough on the eye and feel we’ve had our fair share of luck, winning games we deserved a draw from at best and seeing Martin Dubravka gaining us a shed load of points via his brilliance in between the sticks, but one thing Bruce has done brilliantly is keep the team motivated.
He’s steadied what I honestly thought was a sinking ship this time last year, got the players on his side at a time I feared many would become disillusioned and, like it or lump it, got us in a better position at this stage of the season than Rafa Benitez did over his last two seasons in charge.
I’m not for a second trying to suggest Bruce is a better manager than Benitez, but he deserves credit for the position we’re in right now.
He may have received the backing Benitez never did following promotion, with us signing £60m of talent last summer and bringing in a trio of talented loan player in January, but he’s also had to manage a squad that lost their two top scorers last summer in Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez.
Now we’re on 38 points and 11 clear of the drop zone with 8 games left to play, Bruce has officially accumulated more points at this stage of the season than any Newcastle manager has since Alan Pardew in 2013/14.
He’s also taken the cups seriously and got us to a FA Cup quarter final, pulled off some big wins over the likes of Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea, given Matty Longstaff his big chance at first-team level, helped Almiron find his scoring boots and given Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey the man management needed to express themselves.
Yes, he’s got a good group of players to work with, but so did Steve McClaren – and look how that ended up, with him completely unable to motivate, organise or inspire!
Now, this isn’t a plea to say potential new owners should keep Steve Bruce and back him with big money should a Saudi takeover be completed, but instead a huge pat on the back for a manager who’s proved many wrong over the past 12 months.
After all, we wouldn’t be on the verge of a big Saudi takeover right now if we were bottom of the pile and set for a return to the second tier!
If these are to be Steve Bruce’s final few games in charge of Newcastle United, I hope remember his time on Tyneside positively.
I don’t believe he’s the man to take us forward if our ambitions move from simply surviving to pushing for a return to the top six, but I do hope people give him the big pat on the back if and when he passes on the baton.