Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal: Steve Bruce can't lift the gloom

Steve Bruce
Bruce succeeded Rafa Benitez as Newcastle manager this summer

In any other circumstances it should have been a celebratory day at St James' Park as a local boy fulfilled his dream of taking charge of boyhood club Newcastle for the first time in a competitive fixture.

However, this was ex-Sunderland manager Steve Bruce following in the wake of Rafael Benitez' departure, a failed takeover bid, with protests outside the ground over the ownership of Mike Ashley.

To top it off it was a miserable rain-soaked occasion as the Magpies suffered a 1-0 loss against Arsenal.

Bad omens? Or might Newcastle fans be smiling at the end of the season?

Newcastle's opening-day woes
SeasonOpponentResult
2019-20Arsenal (h)0-1
2018-19Tottenham (h)1-2
2017-18Tottenham (h)0-2
2016-17Fulham (a)0-1
2015-16Southampton (h)2-2
2014-15Man City (h)0-2

Fans resolute in their dislike for Ashley

Much of the build-up to the match in the local press focused on the scheduled protest against the ownership of Ashley, which have now become as permanent a fixture in these parts as the Hoppings fun fair.

The latest of these, which took place outside the stadium's club shop, was organised by a handful of fans' groups who continued the familiar theme of wanting the 54-year-old retail billionaire out of the club.

Around 50-100 attended, holding banners that included the words, 'We don't demand a club that wins, we demand a club that tries'. Another, slightly less tasteful, carried the infamous topless images of the Newcastle chief accompanied by the words, 'Asset Stripping'.

The fuel for this latest ire was provided by a combination of events this summer: the departure of the fans' beloved Benitez and the failure of yet another supposed takeover bid.

Aside from the banners and a speech from a group leader, there was also a chant reserved for the departed Spanish manager which began, "Rafa was right..."

The rest cannot be printed.

Newcastle fans protest outside St James' Park
Newcastle fans voiced their unhappiness at owner Mike Ashley before Sunday's game

No ceremony for Bruce in opening game

In the middle of this is Bruce.

Having been turned down by the club as a youth player, then twice turning the club down as a manager, the boy who grew up a few miles from the ground is finally a fully-fledged Magpie.

There was no Tannoy announcement introducing the former Sunderland boss as he was met before kick-off by a reception of photographers. Perhaps the club feared a negative reaction?

He gave a thumbs-up to someone in the crowd before the action got under way and then stood in his area for much of the match occasionally barking instructions, but was relatively placid compared to his animated counterpart Unai Emery.

There was little reaction when Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang punished the one major defensive mistake of the match and a shrug of the shoulders at the final whistle.

On his first competitive game in charge he said: "It's one I'll never forget, I'm disappointed with the result, but it is a wonderful privilege to manage this great club."

After the match, the conversations between those fans who were milling about the nearby bars seemed neutral on the prospects of Bruce.

One fan, who has held a season ticket for 30 years, was swaying more towards the unconvinced.

"Bruce is not for Newcastle United," said Robert Chater from Stanley. "I'll give him his chance but he's an 11th-choice manager.

"He managed the Mackems first."

New attacking pair show promise

Joelinton (centre) heads the ball against Arsenal
Joelinton - a £40m summer signing from Hoffenheim - gave glimpses of what he is capable of

How much Bruce was involved in the recruitment of £60m pair Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin is unclear.

Brazilian club-record £40m signing Joelinton, a target of the Newcastle chiefs more so than of former manager Benitez, produced an effervescent display in the first half highlighted by a jinking run and shot on goal, but faded after the break.

Frenchman Saint-Maximin almost brought the crowd to their feet with a couple of runs into the area, and showed signs that he may become the type of showman fans of the club so cherish.

Newcastle's summer signings
PlayerPositionFromFee
JoelintonStrikerHoffenheim£40m
Allan Saint-MaximinMidfielderNice£16.5m
Andy CarrollStrikerUnattachedFree
Emil KrafthDefenderAmiens£5m

So what now?

Matches at Norwich and Tottenham, followed by a home game against Watford and a trip to Anfield - might give a better indication as to the prospects of Bruce's Newcastle this season.

One almost certain thing is that Ashley will oversee matters once again - he even indicated in a recent interview that he might remain at St James' Park for many years to come.

Former owner Sir John Hall, who sold his remaining shares to Ashley in 2007, told BBC Sport: "We're millionaires not billionaires. You're coming in with just enough sufficient cash to tick along.

"You have high hopes, but not cash to fulfil. You can't satisfy the fans. I was surprised Mike didn't sell, if you were to believe the offers.

"If there is a billionaire looking to invest, Newcastle has tremendous potential on the basis that the financial state of the game will continue for the next 10 years or so."

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