As the whistle blew at St James’ Park, the unmistakable sound of booing rained down from the stands after Newcastle United’s latest insipid performance.
The goalless draw against an equally lacklustre Burnley on Saturday meant Newcastle had won once in nine Premier League matches, and failed to score in their last four.
The last time they had gone that long without a goal was in September 2015 under the reign of former England manager Steve McClaren. Newcastle were relegated that season.
By the end of the weekend, they would sit 14th in the table, five points out of the drop zone, but with teams below closing fast.
Norwich, Watford and West Ham all won and, come the season’s finale, having the division’s third worst goal difference could also prove critical for the Magpies.
Ahead of a fifth round FA Cup tie at West Bromwich on Tuesday evening, Geordie manager Steve Bruce tried to find some light in the gloom hanging over Tyneside. "It was a better performance,” he said. “There are positives I can take … We’ve got the second best defensive record at home but I’m sure fans will be saying ‘yeah, but we don’t score enough!’”
Not scoring enough has been the story of Newcastle’s season. No one has scored fewer in the division (24) and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is their top scorer with five.
“Goals? It is our Achilles heel,” the 59-year-old said. “We changed shape, we were more of a threat and looked more like scoring [against Burnley]. We had 21 attempts. We have to take one. There lies our problem.”
Bruce was under no illusions when he took the job last summer. He was replacing, in Rafa Benitez, the most popular manager at Newcastle since Bobby Robson’s reign (that ended in 2004) and fan fury at owner Mike Ashley was again at boiling point.
A La Liga and Champions League winning manager had left due to what he perceived as the club’s lack of ambition, and was replaced by a man whose coaching CV highlights were securing three promotions to England’s top-flight, plus an FA Cup runner’s up medal.
Bruce, who quit second-tier side Sheffield Wednesday to take over, insisted: “I’ve heard it said that I’m a puppet but I’m not Mike Ashley’s bagman or anything else. I’m my own man. All I ask is to be given a chance.”
With last season’s top scorers, Ayoze Perez and Solomon Rondon, following Benitez to the exit, recruitment was always going to be vital. It has not gone well.
Swedish defender Emil Krath (£5m [Dh23.6m]) has barely played and looks out of his depth. Former England striker Andy Carroll returned to the club on a free transfer and can still be unplayable for defenders when fit. Sadly for Bruce, he has been mainly unplayable due to injuries.
The quick and skilful French winger Allan Saint-Maximin (£16m) has become a fans’ favourite but whose decision making and final ball are erratic, to say the least.
Three January loan signings - defender Danny Rose, winger Valentino Lazaro and centre midfielder Nabil Bentaleb - are still finding their feet.
But it is Brazilian attacker Joelinton, signed for a club record £40m, who is symbolic of the club’s struggles. “I watched him playing for Hoffenheim against Manchester City in the Champions League and he’s very, very good,” Bruce said on his arrival in July.
The 23-year-old, who had never been a regular scorer during spells in Germany and Austria, was brought in to lead the line and given the added pressure of wearing the club’s talismanic No 9 shirt. Feeding off scraps in a team that does not create many chances, he has scored once in 28 league appearances.
Against Burnley, he was shunted out to left midfield but was substituted with 15 minutes after looking as uncomfortable out wide as he did an attacking spearhead.
Club record scorer and BBC pundit Alan Shearer was scathing after the match. “Another game, no goals, but that sort of sums Newcastle up because their recruitment has been rotten … the lack of goals, the lack of creativity.”
And the man wearing his old No 9 shirt? “He is not a centre forward,“ Shearer insisted. "Someone at Newcastle has decided we're going to take a huge gamble on him.”
Bruce, meanwhile, continues to suggest that his players are incapable of throwing off the shackles instilled in them by Benitez.
“The two or three times I've tried to change us, it didn't really work,” he said in October. “I quickly worked out at Norwich [3-1 defeat in August] that we didn't have the players with the capability to play the way I'd envisaged.
“We're going to have to play in a certain way and the identity will be to sit deep and play on the counter-attack, because … that way has been drilled into them.”
That is not to say there have not been plus points for Bruce. Victories over Tottenham and Manchester United - and a draw with Manchester City - were almost Benitez-esque in their discipline and organisation, while the team are actually one point better off than this time last season.
And if they win at Championship leaders West Bromwich, Bruce will become the first Newcastle manager to lead the club into the FA Cup quarter-finals since Glenn Roeder in 2006.
On his appointment back in July, Bruce made clear his pride at taking over the club he supported as a boy. “Maybe one day the supporters will sing my name. That’s not important to me ... but, if they do sing it one day, it’ll be a sign we’ve done OK.” Judging by current form, it could be a long wait.