•Newcastle lost 3-1 to Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday.
• Bruce cancelled Sunday’s day off and ordered his players to report for an inquest.
In one breath, Steve Bruce said he could not question the desire of his Newcastle players, in the next he was accusing them of not even putting their boots on.
It is this scrambled thinking, the mixed messages and a sense of being overwhelmed by the job he has inherited which have accentuated a feeling of impending crisis, even at this early juncture.
Forget Rafa Benitez, Mike Ashley, protests and boycotts, the cause for concern among supporters and observers is entirely the making of Bruce and his players.
There is a myth that the new head coach has entered a toxic club where fans are willing him to fail. That isn’t true, they are reacting to what they have seen on the pitch.
Had they won at Norwich on Saturday, the team would have been cheered from the field, likewise if they’d beaten Arsenal on the opening weekend. But they did not, they lost both matches, the latest following a performance so abject that Bruce cancelled Sunday’s day off and ordered his players to report for an inquest.
“I can’t go onto the pitch with them,” said Bruce. “But the one thing in management I’ve always tried to instil into my team is yes, we make mistakes, but I can’t forgive a performance where basically you don’t put your boots on. Unfortunately, it’s happened already, which is the second game in, but I’ll do all I can to make sure that changes.”
Downing tools after two games of a new management regime, as Bruce suggests, is reason for alarm. The boss has attempted to protect himself by making reference of Benitez not winning any of his first 10 matches last season. And yes, he deserves — and will get — at least that amount of time to make his mark on a team he has only worked with for a month or so.
But to ignore the warning signs would risk sleepwalking towards an irreversible position, much like the club did under Steve McClaren four years ago. First up, determining what it was that caused his players to not even match Norwich for effort.
“We’ve got to do the basics better,” said Bruce, whose side were beaten by a Teemu Pukki hat-trick, aided by defensive disarray.
“Whatever level you’re at, the first thing you have to do is do more than the opposition. I didn’t think we did that.”
Then there is the formation, a 3-5-2 that has at least four players - two wing-backs and two advanced midfielders - in positions they, personally, would not regard as their strongest. It is also a system in which the £61million front pairing of Joelinton and Miguel Almiron appear isolated from each other and the team. As Alan Shearer observed on Match of the Day: ‘Where do you start with Newcastle? Terrible defensively, no creativity at all.
“Time and time again Joelinton was on his own. They could have played for another three or four hours and I wouldn’t have fancied those two (forwards) to combine. Scoring goals will be a big problem for Newcastle unless they change things.”
Bruce has to make those changes and quick, otherwise talk of a far more drastic change will soon be in the offing.