Newcastle United, despite the circumstances, has had a good season so far, exceeding expectations as they look to secure another season in the Premier League.
A dark, grey cloud seemed to grow around Tyneside after Rafa Benitez left to manage the Chinese Super League’s Dalian Professional squad, in 2019. More and more fans looked to target the club’s chairman, Mike Ashley, choosing him as the scapegoat for the respected manager’s departure.
However, it is understandable for the fans to pinpoint him as the reason why Benitez left. A lack of trust was identified between the former Magpie’s manager and Ashley, in a column, the Spanish manager wrote for the Athletic.
In light of this, pundits had predicted Newcastle to be facing a relegation battle this season, with some predicting them to be at the foot of the table at the end of the 2019/20 campaign.
On the other hand, Steve Bruce, the Spaniard’s successor, led the squad to 13th in the Premier League, before the season was postponed, on 35 points – a number that is far from comfortable as they sit eight points above the relegation zone.
After Benitez’ departure in the summer of 2019, Bruce – who had formerly managed Newcastle rivals, Sunderland AFC, had a big hill to climb to win over the fans. Their first victory came at St. James’ Park against Manchester United where they beat the visiting side 1-0. It was a full seven weeks into the season before the Tyneside team had secured their first win.
If the Football Association had decided to follow suit with the non-league seasons for the English Football League’s and Premier League, announcing them to stop with immediate effect, Bruce would have equalled Benitez’ second and final Premier League finish for Newcastle. However, this does not look likely and the league will likely continue to run its course.
There is no doubt Bruce is still being judged, by fans, on his ability to keep their squad inside the Premier League for the remainder of the season. Will he crack under pressure or will he prove he was the right man for the job?
Against All Odds
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the new manager. Pundits and fans alike didn’t trust the squad to survive the season as Newcastle was placed in the relegation zone in many 19/20 predictions.
The Telegraph and Sky Sports pundit, Matt Le Tissier, both placed the Magpies in 18th. On the other hand, the BBC had predicted that Newcastle would finish 17th, putting them just outside the relegation positions. Meaning, Newcastle was believed to be faced with a relegation battle to survive in the league this year.
In light of this, Bruce has been able to steer his squad eight points clear of the dropzone, before the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the season. However, once the season restarts, nine games remain for the Tyneside team and there is still time for these predictions to come true.
Recent times hasn’t been the best for fans of the Toon Army, with them venting their frustration towards Ashley, as they have boycotted games as a way to display their anger towards the Tyneside chairman. Hoping that if the fans are able to damage his pocket, he will get the message to sell-up and leave.
There were plenty of takeover rumours over the course of 2019. Amanda Staveley was one of the first rumours to sprout up and there are now interests from Saudi Arabia circulating the media today.
Like many of the previous ‘talks’, fans do not believe this will happen – unless it actually does. Fans of Newcastle have been led on a series of goose-chases in terms of a takeover from Ashley’s control recently. These runarounds have diminished hope of any takeover actually happening with the fans.
On the other hand, this could just be a ploy to take the media’s heat off Ashley. This potential takeover sprung up recently after his Sports Direct franchise made a U-turn after they received criticism in regards to keeping their stores open amid the pandemic. But in a year where 2020 has been a mixed bag of events, Newcastle fans can only hope.