Steve Bruce

Bruce labels Newcastle performance ‘too passive’

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Steve Bruce was harsh but fair when discussing his team’s performance in the 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Monday.

Newcastle was battered and bruised throughout the match, out-shot in the game 17-11 and beaten on the xG count 2.44-1.04, with half their xG total coming on one saved shot just before halftime.

That left Bruce shaking his head after the match, criticizing his team’s ability to put the home side under pressure at Villa Park. “I think that was the disappointment,” Bruce said during his post-match media availability when discussing the first half. “I think we didn’t do enough with the ball or without it to cause Aston Villa any real threat.”

[ MORE: Recap, 3 things learned ]

“For a half-hour we were too passive, and that’s the frustrating thing,” Bruce said, “because Aston Villa weren’t that great either and the game’s hinged on the first goal.”

It wasn’t just the attacking mentality that Bruce said was missing. He also wanted more from his defenders, who allowed a pair of set-piece goals, both coming on deliveries from Conor Hourihane who scored the first and assisted the second.

“I think our defenders should be defending that better, too many stood and watched it,” Bruce said of the second goal scored by Anwar El Ghazi in front of net, “and unfortunately in two minutes in the Premier League the game’s gone.”

Bruce was asked if the international break put a stop to the team’s momentum, which he brushed off. “There’s no excuses really. In the first half we didn’t do enough, and we have to be honest enough to admit that.”

Aston Villa thumps Newcastle 2-0 to go seven clear of the drop

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Aston Villa and Newcastle came into the match at Villa Park just a point apart in the Premier League table, but on the day the gulf in ability was on full display.

A comprehensive 2-0 home victory saw Villa go seven points clear of the relegation zone, with first-half goals from Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi, both on set-pieces. Needing some form of attacking mentality in the second half, Newcastle offered nothing going forward, and Steve Bruce will have plenty to ponder after a night when nothing went right.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Martin Dubravka was on hand to make sure the scoreline wasn’t worse, but the Magpies were soundly beaten on the road. Jack Grealish pulled the strings for the home side, providing a silky attacking display and delighting the Villa Park fans.


Three things we learned

1) Newcastle’s desire questionable against Villa onslaught

Aston Villa came out firing on all cylinders from the opening whistle to halftime, bringing into question Newcastle’s desire in such a critical match. Sure, Newcastle was playing on the road, but to concede so much attacking pressure to a fellow relegation candidate was problematic. It all came to a head on the half-hour mark when DeAndre Yedlin‘s foul of Jack Grealish on the edge of the penalty area led to a stunning free-kick by Conor Hourihane that delivered the game’s first goal.

It continued after the opening goal, with another set-piece situation doubling the Aston Villa lead. Newcastle had mental lapses all over the penalty area, with Paul Dummett just completely switching off, allowing a free-kick to reach Anwar El-Ghazi.

Seriously, what was the Newcastle defense doing? And goalkeeper Martin Dubravka hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory there either, putting forth a measly effort to stop that ball.

After the home side was 2-0 up and the Steve Bruce absorption plan was shot, they had very little to offer up front. Bruce threw on Andy Carroll – who hasn’t scored since April of last year – with a half-hour to go, but it had little effect on the game despite changing to a 4-4-2 formation. The Magpies had absolutely nothing when it mattered most, and that’s exceptionally worrying for a team fighting for its Premier League lives.

2) Aston Villa’s fight should keep them afloat

What Newcastle doesn’t have, Aston Villa does. Look, this isn’t the best team in the league, not by a long shot. They make mistakes and they have glaring weaknesses. But they have a fight which will earn the Claret & Blue enough points to stay afloat. Dean Smith should be proud of the way he prepares his team to play matches, milking just about as much effort from this squad as he can. It’s hard to see them going down when they play at this level during such important matches.

3) Jack Grealish continues to be Villa’s talisman

It’s been clear from the start of the season who Aston Villa’s best player is, and who will save them from the drop. Jack Grealish was fantastic again, distributing around the penalty area and pulling all the attacking strings. He completed 48 of his 56 pass attempts, including 25-of-31 in the attacking third, picking up four chances created and assisting the opening goal (to be fair, it was the cheapest assist of all time, simply there to tap the free-kick to Hourihane which opened the Newcastle wall). The 24-year-old ran the show at Villa Park and will surely be the one to lead the squad to safety this season, and he embodies the aforementioned fight that possessed the squad tonight. 

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish


Aston Villa was clearly the better side throughout the first half, holding 75% possession through the first half-hour. They went ahead on a pair of set-pieces, with Newcastle committing two fouls right on the edge of the penalty area. DeAndre Yedlin and Federico Fernandez were the guilty parties, and the defending was miserable on both goals.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Newcastle had a chance to pull one back, but a Fernandez header was saved by Tom Heaton was up to the task, keeping the effort out. That was by far their best opportunity, and put forth just one other shot on target the rest of the half.

El Ghazi nearly had a second before halftime on the counter but an excellently timed step by Jetro Willems played the Dutch international offside and the flag went up as the ball found the back of the net.

Newcastle came out inspired after the half, but the burst of energy barely lasted 10 minutes as Villa nearly scored a third on 52 minutes, requiring a great Dubravka save on Ezri Ngoyo’s header. Again Dubravka was on point in the 74th minute when Wesley poked on frame from short range with the goal gaping. He picked up a third big save on an 85th minute free-kick by Jack Grealish who was aiming for the far post with an attacker waiting to pounce.

Bruce explains why ex-MLS star Almiron will get out of drought

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From the outside of Newcastle United, it would appear odd that former Atlanta United superstar Miguel Almiron keeps getting starts.

He hasn’t scored. He hasn’t gotten assists. He’s produced plenty of chances but finished poorly.

[ PL PREVIEW: Villa v. Newcastle ]

Magpies boss Steve Bruce sees more than that, though, as the club brings a three-match unbeaten run to Villa Park on Monday.

Bruce had said in recent weeks that the Paraguayan just needs a goal to go in off his backside in order to break the dam. Now, the Newcastle manager is detailing what he loves about the winger.

From The Chronicle:

“He’s got two in three on international duty. Look, it will happen as I’ve said many, many times. I thought his last performance, in particular, he was sensational against Bournemouth.”

“His running statistics, I’ve never seen anybody in 20 years cover the distance, playing with the intensity, the sprint distance…. I’ve never seen it. It’s high as I’ve ever seen. It will come because he’s a multi-talented player. He just has to score once and I think it will open up.”

Almiron’s unfortunate season has been well-covered in our Newcastle match recaps, but the key lies in the adjectives. Like David McGoldrick at Sheffield United (without the VAR era), Almiron is just going through a snake bit stretch.

Almiron looks a bit more shook than McGoldrick, but we’d back the Paraguayan to find something closer to what Newcastle fans have seen from Ayoze Perez in recent years.

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. Newcastle United

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Two teams having very different seasons meet Monday when Newcastle United heads to Villa Park to face Aston Villa (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Steve Bruce will lead his fortuitous Newcastle side against his former side, one he nearly led to Premier League promotion. The Villans have been a fun watch this season, but have not seen performances turn into points.

Villa has lost three-straight league matches, albeit against strong sides Liverpool, Man City, and Wolves, and after this face Manchester United, Arsenal, and Leicester City.

Newcastle is unbeaten in three, turning a Wolves draw into wins over Bournemouth and West Ham.

The Magpies are up to 14th and sit closer to fifth than the drop zone, while Villa is just a point clear of the Bottom Three despite some impressive performances this season.


Injuries/suspensions

Aston Villa: OUT — Jed Steer. QUESTIONABLE — Jack Grealish,

Newcastle United: OUT — Jamaal Lascelles, Sean Longstaff, Matt Ritchie. QUESTIONABLE — Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark


Probable lineups

Aston Villa: Heaton, Targett, Mings, Konsa, Guilbert, Nakamba, Luiz, McGinn, Grealish, El Ghazi, Wesley.

Newcastle United: Dubravka; Willems, Fernandez, Schar, Dummett, Yedlin; Hayden, Shelvey; Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.


What they’re saying

Villa boss Dean Smith on playmaker Jack Grealish: “The fact he hasn’t got called up, we’ve spoken at length about that. He can’t control that but what he can control is he can keep performing, making sure he keeps the pressure on the people who have to make them decisions. He’s ready. He’s one of the fittest lads there, always doing extras after training as well. He’s fit and ready.”

Newcastle’s Steve Bruce on electric, eccentric Allan Saint-Maximin“He’s only 22 and he’s got more outfits than I’ve seen. He’s different and I’m sure at times he’s going to cause me a few problems. But in all of that, deep down, he’s a decent kid. He’s okay, a bit different, but we all have to manage these different individuals, and he’s certainly one. He likes an ear-ring. He gives me £100 every other day when he forgets to take it out! In that respect, I’ve got a few quid off him already. But he’s a good kid, he’s all right. The players like him. He’s daft, he’s off the wall and he’s likeable.”


Prediction

A Villa win could seem like a decent bet, but so do goals. And the way Newcastle has defended is feast or famine this season. We’re gonna go for goals, with Grealish, Saint-Maximin, Wesley, and maybe even Miguel Almiron on the score sheet. 2-2.

Bruce calls Newcastle thumping at Leicester City ‘complete surrender’

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Steve Bruce did not hold back after his Newcastle side was obliterated 5-0 at the hands of Leicester City.

The Magpies boss called the defeat “a complete surrender” and blasted his team’s effort on the field in the loss.

“We have to apply ourselves better than what I’ve just witnessed there because it was a complete surrender too quickly and too easily,” he said after the defeat. “Too many felt sorry for themselves. Yes, we made mistakes and we got badly punished but to react in that way was the disappointment for myself, the players and the traveling support, which was quite unbelievable.”

Bruce, who took over for the departed Rafa Benitez despite heavy fan protest, said his players were soundly beaten in the second half and failed to respond to any of the adversity faced.

“Effort is a big, big part of the game and we have not done enough,” Bruce said to BBC Sport after the match. “The nitty gritty is we have not laid a glove on Leicester in the second half and the white flag came out too early.”

Most shockingly, Bruce seemed to admit the job might be out of his depth. He took responsibility for the defeat, but said that the best coaching would not have saved the players on the day.

“Being a manager or coach, I ultimately accept the responsibility because it’s as bad an afternoon as I can remember,” Bruce said. “I have heard lots of nonsense about tactics but the big thing is about showing pride and having a go. We have let everybody down today. I always knew it was a challenge, I was delighted to take the challenge but let us hope we can turn it around. I have the appetite to do that.”

Newcastle sits 19th in the Premier League table, with only the defensively challenged Watford below them. They next face Manchester United on Sunday, followed by a visit to Chelsea and a match against Wolves.