Newcastle vault clear of the worry zone but Steve Bruce can never win

If the Newcastle manager wanted a stark reminder about the untenable nature of his position with the majority of the club's fans, the aftermath of this madcap victory certainly underlined it.
Newcastle vault clear of the worry zone but Steve Bruce can never win

HIGH JUMP: Newcastle United's Joelinton vaults clear of West Ham's Craig Dawson, the defender's last act, wit the lunge leadign to his dismissal. Picture: Dave Rogers, PA Wire.

Premier League: Newcastle 3 West Ham 2

STEVE Bruce might have thought his stock couldn't have fallen any lower with supporters during his side's lengthy losing streak, but it appears that's nothing compared to his new-found levels of unpopularity now they've actually started winning.

If the Newcastle manager wanted a stark reminder about the untenable nature of his position with the majority of the club's fans, the aftermath of this madcap victory certainly underlined it.

He brings Joe Willock off the bench to score a dramatic late winner. A bit of humble pie for the critics, perhaps? None of it. Well done, Steve? No chance. It's more a case of why wasn't he on the pitch sooner, Steve?

Claim seven points from the last three games after restoring Sean Longstaff to the midfield. Surely worth at least a small pat on the back? Of course not. Why has Longstaff been out of the team for so long, Steve, wail the critics?

At the moment, that's how Newcastle United works. For Bruce, it's the polar opposite of win-win. He claims he's got a thick skin, but he'd need to be a dermatological freak to withstand the continued onslaught he's receiving from fans.

He insisted afterwards that their tally of 35 points isn't yet sufficient to secure a fifth consecutive season of top flight football on Tyneside as 'there's always a sting in the tail' as far as Newcastle are concerned.

Until the recent upturn in results, that sting looked increasingly likely to be administered in the final day of the season trip to Fulham next month, in what was shaping up to be a winner-takes-all scrap on the banks of the Thames to remain afloat in the Premier League.

The magnitude of that fixture, at least from Newcastle's perspective, looks to be subsiding. "The gap we've opened up is pretty big and it puts a bit more pressure on Fulham," insisted Longstaff. "We've both got tough run-ins and we don't want it to go down to that last game of the season. The more points we can pick up between now and then is only going to help in that aim."

The 23-year-old remained diplomatic on the issue of his absence and subsequent return to the starting line-up. He added: "Obviously, I have my own views on it, and whether I feel it was right or wrong, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t make the final decision.

"I know that in the two months between starts, I trained really well – probably the best I've trained in the last two years. It's always nice when you come back in and the team pick up results.

"I've not been in for a while but I think my performances have been pretty good considering I've not played for more than two months. I'm enjoying being back playing and hopefully l can stay in the team until the end of the season. It's never pretty watching us, but that's the way it is at the minute. This is a massive step towards safety."

Willock headed the winner from Matt Ritchie's cross to halt a Hammers comeback which had seen them level through Issa Diop and a Jesse Lingard penalty after a Diop own goal and rare Joelinton strike had put them in control against the visitors who lost Craig Dawson to two cautions before the break.

How the ponderous Jonjo Shelvey retained his place ahead of Newcastle's Arsenal loanee was the question most supporters wanted answering rather than dishing out praise for Bruce's match-winning substitution.

Explaining his absence from the starting line-up, the England Under-21 forward said: "I feel like I'm making a difference but I want to start games. I'm not doing enough to start at the moment, that's what the manager is telling me.

"I'll work hard to make a difference, fight for the badge and hopefully start more games." 

On his second goal in consecutive games coming off the bench at St James' Park, he added modestly: "I put my head there and closed my eyes."

Lukasz Fabianski apologised for gifting Newcastle's second goal in a defeat which though damaging proves far from fatal to West Ham's unlikely tilt at a top four finish. Saturday's game against Chelsea will prove pivotal to their hopes of muscling in on the Champions League spots.

"I have to say I'm really sorry for my performance," the Polish goalkeeper said afterwards. "Especially so because the boys have worked so hard to get a result."

NEWCASTLE UTD (5-3-2): Dubravka 6; Murphy 7, Fernandez 6, Clark 6, Dummett 6, Ritchie 7; Almiron 7, Shelvey 6, S Longstaff 7 (Willock 82); Joelinton 7 (Carroll 90), Saint-Maximin 8 (Wilson 64, 6).

Subs (not used): Gayle, Lewis, Hendrick, Krafth, Manquillo, Willock, Gillespie.

WEST HAM UTD (3-4-1-2): Fabianski 4; Diop 5, Dawson 4, Ogbonna 6; Coufal 7, Noble 7 (Benrahma 75, 6), Soucek 6, Johnson 6 (Fredericks 90); Fornals 5; Bowen 6, Lingard 6 (Lanzini 87).

Subs (not used): Balbuena, Yarmolenko, Alves, Martin, Trott, Coventry.

Referee: K Friend 7.

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