Steve Bruce understands growing concerns about Newcastle’s predicament but the under-fire manager remains “quietly confident” of staying up despite Sunday’s defeat at Manchester United.
Having been 10 points clear of the dropzone just a fortnight ago, Fulham’s upturn in fortunes has seen the gap to the 17th-placed Magpies closed to a mere three points.
Newcastle have lost to Chelsea and now Manchester United in that period, although Bruce’s side started well at Old Trafford on Sunday and Allan Saint-Maximin cancelled out Marcus Rashford’s fine opener.
But Daniel James struck early in the second half and Bruno Fernandes’ spot-kick wrapped up a 3-1 result that left the Magpies boss facing difficult questions.
“After a good hour they got a goal just at the right time then another,” Bruce said.
“The first goal I’m sure we could have defended better as I try to analyse it now.
“The second one got a horrible deflection that took it into the path of young James.
𝘼𝙣𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧 goal.𝘼𝙣𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧 assist (😉)— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 21, 2021
“We’re disappointed but I can take a lot of positives from it, especially the first hour of the performance.
“I think Allan had a big chance when it was one each and unfortunately (David) De Gea saved it.
“But for long periods I was pleased but we’ve got to put the whole thing together and get a few results, of course.”
Asked how big the threat of relegation is after Fulham cut the gap by beating Sheffield United on Saturday, Bruce said: “Well, look, there’s six or seven teams in and around us with 13 games to go.
“I’m sure there’s a few looking over their shoulder and of course we’re one of them.
“But I’m still quietly confident that we’ll be fine if we keep performing like we did in the first hour.
“It was always going to be difficult coming to Chelsea away then Man United away, but I’ve been pleased with certain aspects of it.”
Bruce felt the groin issue that forced off Joelinton in the 55th minute was a big turning point, while the Newcastle boss said Saint-Maximin is still “physically not right” after a long spell on the sidelines.
Miguel Almiron also came off “totally exhausted” on a night that saw fans’ concerns grow about Newcastle’s Premier League status.
“Of course they don’t want to see their team at the wrong end of the table and I understand that totally,” Bruce added.
“The one thing we’ve got is a unique fanbase, which makes us the club we’ve got.
“Of course they’re anxious but, as I said, I’m quietly confident if we keep performing like that first hour in particular then I’m still confident we’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, United counterpart Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was pleased to build on Thursday’s 4-0 shellacking of Real Sociedad in the Europa League.
The Red Devils had secured just one win from their previous five top-flight matches, with this victory moving them back into second and within 10 points of leaders Manchester City.
“It’s one of those that you can’t really walk into a stadium and think ‘we play Premier League now, we’re in bad form’,” said Solskjaer, who brought 17-year-old Shola Shoretire off the bench for his debut.
“And then when you walk into stadium Thursday in the Europa League and think ‘we’re in great form’.
“To build momentum, to go on the pitch and feel you’re playing well is important. We’ve had a couple of setbacks.
“West Brom and Sheffield United, two setbacks there but we can look back at them and see why we didn’t get points we deserved, but that’s not what I want to do.
“The boys are really focused, good at recovering mentally and physically.
“It’s not easy. We played Thursday night and came back here and that’s why we maybe needed 45 mins to get going.”
It was a great end to a day that started with United announcing that Nicky Butt and Mark Dempsey would join Solskjaer on the bench “due to some of the coaching staff having to self-isolate”.
Coaches Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna were not listed on the team sheet for the game against Newcastle.
“We’ve got good staff elsewhere,” Solskjaer said.
“Of course it was a bit of a different preparation for the boys but in the situation we’re in, we’ve got to be ready for that.
“We did that as a precaution and we’ll have to follow protocols.”
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