Newcastle United head coach Steve Bruce admits this season has constituted the toughest campaign of his managerial career to date amid his side’s inconsistent form in the Premier League and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Magpies have flirted with the relegation positions all season and ahead of their game against West Ham on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, sit six points above the Premier League bottom three with seven matches remaining.
During November and December last year, a number of Newcastle’s playing and non-playing staff contracted Covid-19 and first-team regulars Allan Saint-Maximin and Jamaal Lascelles both missed around two months of action over the winter after suffering from the long-term effects of the virus. The outbreak also saw their training ground closed for a period of time and their game against Aston Villa postponed in early December.
Bruce also believes playing behind closed doors and not seeing the 52,405-capacity St James’ Park full for each home game due to government restrictions over the past year may have impacted the team’s form to a greater extent when compared with other Premier League clubs.
Bruce was unable to prevent Birmingham City from being relegated to the Championship in 2006 and Hull City were demoted to the second tier in 2015 under his tenure at the KCOM Stadium. But the 60-year-old says the task to retain Newcastle’s top-flight status this term has been the most difficult challenge he has faced in management.
When asked whether the 2020/21 season had been Bruce’s toughest to date, he told Sky Sports News: “Yeah I think I would have to say that, with all that goes with it.
“It could only happen to me that I’m the manager of Newcastle and were without our support. Our support is quite unique, we have a wonderful fanbase, [especially] after having them for a year and [having] seen how they are against the big teams and how they help…
“I don’t think we fully understood the severity of Covid and what that did to us, particularly after the Crystal Palace game. A lot of people were left not well at all.
“You’re talking about supreme athletes here who basically had to shut down for eight weeks and couldn’t raise their heart rate.
“It has been a really tough, tough time. Listen, we are not out of it yet we still have a long way to go, but it has been tough of course.”
One defeat in their last six matches has widened the gap between Newcastle and the relegation places. Boosted by the return of Callum Wilson and Saint-Maximin from injury, Bruce’s side have the opportunity to make it back-to-back wins on Saturday against West Ham.
The 2-1 victory over Burnley was only their third in 20 league outings and first win in eight games, but Bruce feels encouraged with Newcastle’s recent displays after a poor run of results over the past few months and feels confident his side can secure top-flight safety this season.
“There’s no question that we went through an awful patch”, he added.
“If you’re in the bottom half of the Premier League, the reason why you’re in there is [that] somewhere along the line in the season you will go through a difficult period.
“Ours in December to January was very difficult. You have to understand what comes your way in the Premier League and stay your way through it if you can.
“The experience that you pick up along the way you call upon in your tough moments because if you are in the Premier League and if you are in the bottom half, then you’re going to come through some tough times, and the league is so unforgiving and so good that you do wonder where your next win comes from, of course you do.
“But we have only lost one in our last six so slowly and steadily we are accumulating the points for what’s needed to stay up in this division.”
David Moyes’ West Ham, who have lost just three times this calendar year, travel to Tyneside following consecutive victories over Wolves and Leicester City. The Hammers are in fourth place and their manager has vowed to do everything he can to try and secure Champions League football for next season.
With both coaches having enjoyed managerial careers that span more than 20 years, Bruce believes there are similarities in the way the experienced pair operate and says he is thrilled to see Moyes succeeding during his second spell at the London Stadium.
“I think we’ve both got the ability to roll our sleeves up and work hard at it and I’m really delighted for Dave,” Bruce said.
“In my opinion, he was not given enough time when he got the real big, big job. I’m delighted to see him doing well again because he works tirelessly at what he does.
“Since the Premier League and I have been in it, Moysey always seems to have been there. It must be something that we have both got but I think it’s the ability to work hard and get stuck into it.
“Of course along the way we’ve both had to have thick skin but that’s part and parcel of it and I’m delighted to see him doing so well.”