Steve Bruce defiant yet highlights Newcastle United problem area ahead of Leeds United clash

NEWCASTLE United boss Steve Bruce said he was left encouraged despite Saturday's 2-0 loss at Aston Villa but admitted the Magpies had a problem at centre-back ahead of Tuesday's clash against Leeds United at St James' Park.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 24th January 2021, 11:37 am
Updated Sunday, 24th January 2021, 11:40 am

Bruce's side slipped to a fourth-straight league loss and a sixth league defeat from their last eight games at Villa Park meaning the Magpies have now gone ten games without a win in league and cup.

The Geordies have also gone over six hours without scoring and nearly 15 hours without netting a goal in open play.

Newcastle's last goal from open play came via Jeff Hendrick's 26th-minute opener in December's clash at Leeds in which Marcelo Bielsa's Whites roared back to record a 5-2 victory.

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Bruce's side have picked up just two points since and will next face 12th-placed Leeds in Tuesday evening's reverse fixture at St James' Park.

The Magpies have slipped to 16th place in the Premier League table with the Toon Army just seven points off the dropzone and having played one game more than third-bottom Fulham.

Fans protested outside St James' Park demanding Bruce to be sacked following Saturday's defeat at Villa but the Magpies boss said he was convinced his side would be okay and that he was encouraged by the the returns of Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser from injury.

But even Saint-Maximin could not help Newcastle create a chance against Villa and Bruce especially highlighted a concern at the other end of the pitch ahead of Tuesday's clash against Leeds with defenders Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett and Federico Fernandez all out.

CONCERN: For Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce, left, pictured after Saturday night's 2-0 loss against Aston Villa at Villa Park with assistant Steve Agnew. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.

First-half goals from Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Trarore sunk the Magpies at Villa and Bruce told Sky Sports: "We've said it very very often about the first goal and unfortunately we've gifted them a goal and after that it was difficult.

"But there were large parts of it that I was pleased about, certainly with the addition of Saint-Maximin and Ryan in particular.

"They will give us something hopefully at the top end of the pitch and we'll get one or two of our central defenders back.

"But I've seen enough to be encouraged. Yes, we have got to accept defeat but there was enough there to work on.

"I've seen enough in the squad when I have seen them two (Saint-Maximin and Fraser) come on the pitch especially and one or two getting back fit.

"We are not as ravaged as we were with injury.

"We have got a problem at centre back, we have got three or four missing unfortunately there so we hope that clears up well.

"But the big players in the team - the ones who can create and score a goal for us are getting themselves back to fitness which can only be a good thing."

Newcastle are now only 2-1 fourth favourites to go down and Magpies supporters group Wor Flags unveiled a flag outside St James' Park following the defeat to Villa with a message to chairman Mike Ashley of: 'act late, seal your fate.'

Told about the protests back in Newcastle, Bruce could only offer "I'm disappointed to hear that".

Asked about the criticisms of Newcastle's style, Bruce said: "I have been criticised for everything.

"I don't necessarily agree with that either.

"We are bottom half of the Premier League and that's where we have been for a while now and of course we are not going to be entertaining and open because if we go that way then unfortunately I don't think we have got enough if we got that way.

"There has got to be a certain way that we go about our work, especially we have got to tighten up defensively still and that's got to be the key to it."

Pressed on whether the Magpies had enough going forward, Bruce said: "That's always the difficult part of the Premier League, we understand that.

"We have found it extremely difficult to score a goal but I was encouraged, especially when I have seen them two come on the pitch.

"It's another game Tuesday and let's get ready for it.

"We've been on a really difficult run, there's no doubting that. But we are not alone in that, it's just our turn.

"When you're in the bottom half of the Premier League, you are always looking over your shoulder and what you need to erase it all is to win a couple of games.

"That little bit of confidence comes with a win and the sooner we get it the better.

"I know this group of players are capable, we've done it before. We've had a particularly tough time in terms of illness and injuries and let's hope we can stay fit and healthy because if we can do that then I'm convinced we will be okay."

Saint-Maximin made his return at Villa Park following an eight-week lay-off due to coronavirus.

Bruce said: "That encourages me. It encouraged me was to see Ryan and Allan on the pitch at the same time. I think it's the first time this season that has happened.

"That will certainly help us going forward."

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Thank you Laura Collins