The net is closing in on Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce.
A 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on Monday means it is now nine games without a win and the relegation zone is creeping up on the Magpies. There is still a seven point gap between them and Fulham but a sense of impending doom has become more prominent in recent weeks.
And if you had asked any Newcastle supporter in September how they expected this season to pan out; they almost certainly would’ve told you this was how it was always going to be.
But it didn’t have to be. And fans have the right to expect more from their club.
Newcastle have become experts at obliterating the one common emotion all football fans hold dear: hope.
In the last month, the club have been knocked out of both domestic cups, scored just one goal, and become the only team so far this season to lose to Sheffield United.
Bruce referred to the performances against the Blades as “absolute shite” before declaring that the team were going to do things “his way” from now on. It all suggests that Bruce, hardly well known for a gung-ho approach, was being held back by his cautious players.
At the Emirates we got to see “his way” as Newcastle set up in a 4-4-2 with Andy Carroll partnering Callum Wilson up front. Joelinton and Miguel Almíron flanked them.
The line-up was filled with attacking intent but delivered more of the same. Newcastle tried, and failed, to cling on to a 0-0 draw. They produced just one shot on target in the process.
It was the sort of performance that has become all too familiar on Tyneside. Under Bruce and often the managers who preceded him.
It’s an approach that has been accepted, even encouraged, by owner Mike Ashley. As long as the club finish 17th every season, they remain in the Premier League and Ashley’s investment remains secure.
It’s a viable business model but football fans don’t celebrate profit margins. They don’t dream of balance sheets.
As long as Ashley remains custodian of the club, supporters will be left wondering what the point of it all actually is.
Steve Bruce may be the person stealing all the hope but Ashley is the Dementor sucking the life and soul out of Newcastle United.
📆 #OnThisDay 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣0️⃣ What a moment! 🤩
@Newcastle United FC –
Still, Bruce is in charge of the team, and regardless of Ashley, the man in the dugout isn’t doing enough. Greg Tomlinson, chairman of the Supporters’ Trust, spoke to BBC Sport following the defeat to Mikel Arteta’s side expressing his concern at the dire situation Newcastle find themselves in:
“Bruce might be realistic about the club, but he shows a lack of understanding about the fans.
“They want a club which strives to get better, that’s what we had with Rafa Benítez, Bobby Robson and Hughton. We want hope and pride.”
Gary Neville defended Bruce during Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football coverage stating that he collected the same amount of points (44) in 2019/20 as Benítez did in his final season.
The difference between the two situations is that under Benítez the supporters had the capacity to dream of better days, that the team were working towards something greater with a Champions League-winning manager in the dugout.
There was hope for the future then. What hope do they have now?
Fans don’t even have the outlet to take their rage out from the stands out at the moment. How demoralising must it be to tune in to watch your team cling on to a 0-0 every week?
There is every right to believe that a new manager would be able to get a better tune out of this current squad.
Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson combined for 12 goals at Bournemouth during the 2018/19 season but have produced just one together during this campaign.
Allan Saint-Maximin, who has been missing for two months, is back in training and is a real moments player capable of producing magic, while Jamal Lewis was being coveted by Liverpool before his move to the North East.
There are areas in this squad that could produce a lot more going forward if they weren’t having to protect their own box for 90 minutes.
If Newcastle’s current form continues then it won’t be long before time will run out on Steve Bruce. Even with Ashley at the helm.
The next managerial appointment will be huge for the club. And it has to restore hope. Because they’ve got nothing else.