Steve Bruce: Have we underestimated Newcastle manager?

Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce has won four, drawn four and lost six of his 14 Premier League games in charge of Newcastle

Newcastle fans aren't yet chanting his name, but the noise that shook St James' Park in the 88th minute on a bright and crisp Saturday must have sounded as good to manager Steve Bruce.

He and his backroom team jumped in unison when goalscorer Jonjo Shelvey and the rest of the team ran over to the dugout to celebrate the late equaliser that secured a 2-2 draw only minutes after it seemed Kevin de Bruyne had won the game for City.

The joy on Bruce's face at the final whistle was in great contrast to his demeanour after his first game in charge of his boyhood club, when they lost 1-0 to Unai Emery's Arsenal following an uninspiring display in early August.

Then it was a wet and dreary occasion. A day when the fans, whose cherished manager Rafael Benitez had left them for China, protested against the ownership outside the stadium and also stayed away.

Bruce was then short odds to become the first Premier League manager to lose his job, but he remains and enhanced his reputation on Tyneside while Emery has gone.

So did we underestimate Bruce? And how far could he take the club?

How does he compare to Benitez so far?

The Longstaff brothers
Steve Bruce has promoted homegrown midfielder Matty Longstaff (left) into the team, playing him alongside older brother Sean (right)

For some Newcastle supporters, Bruce succeeding Benitez seemed like just another insult during a disappointing summer in which their hopes of hanging on to the Spaniard and talks of a takeover from the Middle East vanished in a matter of weeks.

For Bruce, a proud Geordie, this was his dream gig. But among the 33 managers to have managed 200 or more Premier League games in charge, his win percentage of 28.1% (110 games in 392 games) was the second-lowest. And he had previously managed Sunderland, which to the staunch Magpies fan was a big no-no.

The disillusionment, all too apparent during the protests against the ownership before the Arsenal match, grew after the 3-1 loss at 'relegation rivals' Norwich. The home crowds that were averaging over 51,000 last season were now about 45,000.

But then strange results began to pop up. The wins over Tottenham and Manchester United took some by surprise before Bruce's men secured back-to-back victories against West Ham and Bournemouth.

In fact, those successive wins occurred about the same period as when Benitez's side found form to go on a three-game winning run last season.

And when it comes to points accumulated, it is another feather in the cap for Bruce, whose side have four more at this stage than his predecessor managed last term.

For that he has his backline to largely thank for both keeping it tight in defence and providing a threat up front - prior to Shelvey's second against City, eight of the past 10 Newcastle goals had been scored by defenders.

Do the front three deserve more praise?

Allan Saint-Maximin
Newcastle forward Allan Saint-Maximin impressed against Manchester City with his direct style

On the flip side, some of the Toon Army will tell you their attack of Joelinton and widemen Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron have underperformed.

The trio cost the club more than £80m but before Saturday's fixture they had only managed one goal and one assist between them - both belonging to Joelinton.

Bruce was forced to defend them after their underwhelming displays in last Monday's 2-0 loss at Aston Villa, and social media was awash with people asking for a change.

There were more moans early on against a dominant City. When Newcastle won back possession Joelinton again struggled to hold up play, Saint-Maximin ran 40 yards then lost the ball, and on one occasion Almiron struggled to get a shot away in the area when the ball got caught up between his feet.

But Bruce said prior to the fixture that he liked what he saw from them in training and wanted to persevere with the trio - and they eventually showed him he was right to do so.

Joelinton got the better of marker John Stones and Saint-Maximin drew City defenders towards him, allowing full-back Jetro Willems to take advantage on the overlap, while Almiron finally got some sort of reward for his relentless workrate by setting up the opener for Willems.

It is still only one goal and two assists between the front trio, but worth remembering that Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon only scored three between them by this stage last year before vastly improving those statistics in the second half of the season.

Does this result raise optimism?

In the post-match news conference, Bruce was asked by a journalist how his side could produce a listless display like the one against Villa followed by one of a far superior standard.

He said: "That's one thing we have to address. We go up and down too easily, especially away from home. We have to improve.

"Consistency is what we're striving for. We have to keep working at it and keep plodding away."

His side have shown the elements required to have a successful season, once that consistency is found. Now the club just have to convince the fans to return and that this is a start of new, happier era.

Long-time supporter Robert Michael Chaytor from Stanley, disappointed when he spoke to BBC Sport after the 1-0 loss to Arsenal three months ago, had a more positive outlook after witnessing the draw against City.

He said: "Newcastle won't go down this season. Definitely not.

"I've still not seen enough I like though. But Bruce deserves his chance, even though he was a Mackem."

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