Chaos and confusion off the pitch has turned to calamity on it for Newcastle United
Sunday's 5-0 defeat at Leicester the latest in a series of insipid displays for Steve Bruce's side
As the dust settles on Tyneside after Newcastle United’s 5-0 drubbing at Leicester City on Sunday, the size of the task facing manager Steve Bruce is now all too clear.
Relegation battles have become a perennial occurrence for the Premier League club, but the confusion and chaos off the pitch is now being replicated on it.
From the moment Leicester full-back Ricardo Pereira was allowed to charge unchallenged towards the penalty area to fire in the opening goal on 16 minutes, the visitors capitulated in spectacular fashion.
Just before the break, midfielder Isaac Hayden was sent-off for a reckless challenge on Dennis Praet and United’s hopes of a second-half fightback were over.
But it got worse. Much worse.
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Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka allowed a Jamie Vardy shot to sneak in at the near post to make it 2-0, Paul Dummett deflected into his own net for the third, before Vardy was given a free header for No 4 and Wilfred Ndidi rubbed salt into Newcastle wounds with a late fifth.
"We have to apply ourselves better than what I've just witnessed there because it was a complete surrender too quickly and too easily," a furious Bruce said after the match.
“It was nowhere near what’s required. If you have 10 men or nine men, the one thing you can show is a bit off resilience, determination, a bit of fight or courage, whatever you want to call it. We simply haven’t done enough to put anything right.”
Captain Jamaal Lascelles called the performance “terrible” and laid the blame squarely with the players. “It is no one's fault but ourselves," he said. "We have had a rollicking off the gaffer and we really need to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
The lack of fight from his players must be a huge concern for Bruce, whose appointment to replace popular Spanish manager Rafael Benitez was hardly met with enthusiasm from Newcastle supporters at permanent loggerheads with owner Mike Ashley.
Less than six months earlier, the Magpies had just sealed a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the King Power Stadium - a win that took them 10 points clear of the relegation zone and secured their place in the English top-flight.
Ayoze Perez’s glancing header had won the match, while on-loan striker Solomon Rondon had again led the line superbly and almost opened the scoring with a 35-yard free-kick that crashed off the crossbar.
After the match, Benitez - whose contract was set to expire in June - had again called on the club to to be "more competitive” in the summer transfer market to help avoid a third successive relegation battle this term.
Within a matter of weeks, all three were off to pastures new. Benitez, tired of what he perceived as the club’s lack of ambition, agreed a lucrative contract with Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang.
Rondon, considered too old by Newcastle at 29 to justify the £16.5 million (Dh74.5m) fee to sign him permanently from West Bromwich Albion, joined Benitez in the Far East.
Perez was next out of the St James’ Park exit, in a £30m switch to Leicester and would start against his former club in Sunday’s demolition job. Fans’ anger at Ashley has reached new highs.
Winning over those supporters was always going to be a monumental task, even for a proud Geordie like Bruce. But the signs are ominous. One win in seven is bad, but the manner of their performances even worse.
During the defeats to Arsenal and Norwich City and the goalless draw at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, players appeared confused with the tactics and formations employed by Bruce.
Some are clearly being played out of position. Hayden, a solid, hard-working defensive midfielder, has been pushed into a more attacking role he clearly is not comfortable with, and arguably contributed to his frustrations boiling over on Sunday.
Pacy winger Miguel Almiron is playing in a central attacking position where his slight frame and lack of composure in front of goal have been badly exposed.
The club’s summer signings have fared little better.
Joelinton, who joined for a club record £40m, has one goal to his name and has looked isolated up front; French winger Allan Saint-Maximin has barely played due to injuries, while Swedish full-back Emil Krafth seems ill-equipped for the Premier League. Returning striker Andy Carroll is still building up match-fitness after a serious ankle injury.
The game against Brighton saw the lowest attendance at St James’ Park for a Premier League game since 2010 – 43,316 – which will only fall further if performances and results continue as they are.
Reports emerged again last week that former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon was set to launch a fresh bid to buy the club – but few believe a deal will go through.
While the shadow of Ashley continues to hang over Newcastle, hopes of brighter days on Tyneside remain grim, and a third relegation under his ownership - Newcastle were demoted in 2009 and 2016 – looks increasingly likely. “We can’t go on like we did today or it is going to be a difficult, difficult season,” Bruce added.
Many more abject displays like the one at Leicester and it is unlikely Bruce will see out the year, never mind the season. It is going to be a long, hard winter for everyone at the club.
Updated: September 30, 2019 08:24 PM