Chris Wilder has endured a torrid season, yet the Sheffield United manager finally had reason to smile on Tuesday night after his side bagged their first league win, at the 18th attempt.
The Blades may remain the hot favourites to be relegated, but with over half the season left to play the long-awaited first win will bring a renewed confidence to Wilder’s troops. After all, he has a history of performing miracles.
In stark contrast, the result exacerbated an already dire situation at Newcastle; who are now winless in eight matches spanning a month, during which they have been dumped out of both domestic cup competitions, and slumped to 15th in the table.
The Toon do currently have an eight point cushion over 18th-placed Fulham, however Scott Parker’s men have games in hand on the teams around them.
Speculation surrounding the future of beleaguered boss Steve Bruce has been ever present during his time at his hometown club.
While fans of most Premier League clubs accept that the football their team employs isn’t always going to be bubbling with panache, excitement and skill - watching Newcastle is largely devoid of all joy, and that’s speaking as a neutral.
It was simply inexcusable that Bruce opted for a meek and ultra-defensive set-up against a previously winless Sheffield United who had been defeated in 15 of their previous 17 games, and mustered just eight goals. To put it simply, they had suffered the worst start of any top-flight team since Bolton back in the 1902/03 season.
While Bruce wasn’t helped by Ryan Fraser’s silly sending off on the cusp of half-time, let’s not detract from the fact that the toothless visitors hadn’t even attempted a shot on goal by that point: Newcastle now top the charts for the most first halves without a single shot on target (six).
Newcastle are now winless in eight games
"Too defensive in the approach?,” Bruce’s replied when asked about his tactics.
"Well we have played the same sort of way and I have changed the personnel at the top end of the pitch to try to give us something a little bit different because we haven't scored enough or created enough.
"That was my thinking, playing Ryan Fraser and Sean Longstaff as two false number 10s instead of Miguel Almiron and Big Joe.
The former Sunderland boss has now seen his odds cut from 6/1 to 7/2 (Bet Victor) in the next Premier League manager to leave market, which makes him the second favourite behind Wilder (7/4), who in truth doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Frank Lampard can be backed at 4/1, Graham Potter at 8/1, while Sam Allardyce is already a 12/1 shot for the chop; he’s not even been in the West Brom hot seat for a month yet.
"I'll never ever walk away from a challenge," Bruce said after his latest loss. "I've been in it long enough to have that respect, but I understand especially watching the first half - we weren't good enough and I take the responsibility for that, because I picked the team.
- Winless in a month— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) January 13, 2021
- Exited both cups
- Defensive set-up heavily criticised
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce has been cut from 6/1 to 7/2 to be the next Premier League manager to leave... 😬
Odds subject to change I BeGambleAware I 18+#NUFC
Newcastle have a tough cluster of fixtures on the horizon. They must travel down to the capital once again to a rejuvenated Arsenal - who they lost to in the FA Cup last weekend - followed by the visit of Leeds, then a trip to Everton. Then there’s consecutive home clashes against Crystal Palace and Southampton, followed by daunting back-to-back away games to Chelsea and Man Utd.
While it’s never nice to call for a manager to leave, all Newcastle fans want is a sprinkling of excitement, a spark of adventure, a side that takes to the field with a hunger and desire to secure all three points; not purely to avoid defeat.
Even an occasional attack would be most welcome at the minute.
Unfortunately for the vast majority of the club’s faithful, Bruce appears to retain the full-backing of the club’s hierarchy, especially with Mike Ashely still around.
Yet who knows what the future holds. If Bruce were to leave, it's former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe (13/5) who currently features as the favourite in the next Newcastle manager market, ahead of ex-Toon manager Rafa Benitez (7/2), whereas Max Allegri is a 20/1 shot and Steven Gerrard a 50/1 outsider.