Steve Bruce has been under-fire in recent weeks for the style of football that Newcastle United currently play.
When the gaffer arrived in July 2019, he vowed that his Toon side would play an attractive brand of football after having a sly dig at Rafa’s approach.
These comments were echoed over the summer when he doubled-down on his pledge to compete in an attacking manner once “Project Restart” got underway – albeit with the pressure off having already secured survival.
The early stages of the 20/21 campaign has seen us be outplayed by pretty much every single team we have come up against since the opening day – with that including Championship side Blackburn and, for large spells of the game, League Two’s Newport County.
Morecambe and Newport aside, our average possession stat this season is 39%, hardly reflective of Bruce’s “we are going to try and play” statement when he arrived at the club – 15 MONTHS ago.
Combine this with just THREE shots on target in the league this season (once of which was a 96th minute penalty) and you have a perfect recipe to describe Toon fans’ frustrations so far this season.
To cut Bruce some slack, we put in an efficient, workmanlike performance against West Ham on the opening day, scoring twice while also keeping a clean sheet. We’re also 10th and in the hat for the Carabao Cup quarter finals, however we can’t ignore the harrowing nature of most of our displays since.
Brighton look a slick-oiled machine under Graham Potter but that doesn’t justify our shocking performance. He then salvaged an undeserved point at Spurs in a game we could’ve lost by three or four on another day – but against Burnley there can be no excuses.
The Clarets are notorious for setting up as hard to beat away from home, with Dyche adopting the traditional English system of yesteryear – having two banks of four guarding his goal while trying to make the game a physical battle.
Burnley will not try to play us off the park like how Brighton did. They are going to be stubborn, box dirty and try their best to grind out a result to take back to Lancashire – the onus to attack is on us.
There is no hiding space for Bruce and his tactics on Saturday night. This fixture is the perfect game for us, as supporters, to judge him on when it comes to our well-documented style of play.
It’s not as though he hasn’t got the tools to do the job, either. Shelvey, Almiron, Fraser, Saint-Maximin and Wilson could all easily be used in a possession-based system. Schar, Manquillo and new boy Lewis are all defenders who are comfortable with playing out from the back too, and at times have looked lost when instructed to punt hopeless balls forward into the path of…nobody, if not an isolated and immobile Andy Carroll.
At around 10 o’clock Saturday we will have a good idea about where we stand with Bruce at NUFC in terms of philosophy, having just watched a game that we simply can’t afford to play hoofball in.
The balance of Bruce’s Tyneside career could hinge on this weekend’s fixture – it’s up to him to prove the doubters wrong.