In Focus: All eyes on the boss as Bruce battles budgets and fan fury
If Steve Bruce thought finishing 17 points clear of the relegation zone would ease the pressure on him at Newcastle, he was sorely mistaken.
The Magpies are one of the few Premier League teams not to make any significant signings yet this summer — and that does not look like changing any time soon.
As fans sung "You’re just a s**t Steve McClaren" to Bruce during a pre-season friendly at Doncaster earlier this week, the task in front of him was clear to see.
But exactly why could this season prove such a battle on Tyneside?
It would appear Bruce has little more than a slim budget to work with at St James’ Park.
Reports suggest the Toon have just £10million in the coffers and will be relying on loan deals.
That means potentially doing all of their business at the end of the window, when the season is already three games old.
On the subject of transfers, Bruce said: "The one thing I am never going to do is bulls**t them [the fans].
"And they know, everybody knows, how difficult it is going to be. We haven't got a lot of money.
"And as managers we always want players and money to improve the team.
"That's our job. I don't think I am alone though in thinking it's going to be quiet, so we have to be patient.
"We have to wait for the big clubs and see what they do. I hope people take that the right way."
What do they need?
Given Newcastle finished comfortably in mid-table last term, it seems odd to suggest several reinforcements are needed.
But the form of Arsenal loanee Joe Willock, who scored eight goals and reinvigorated the team, was key for Bruce following his January arrival.
He may yet return and Bruce wants to add two central midfielders to his squad — one defensive destroyer and one of a similar ilk to 21-year-old Willock.
But that is easier said than done with targets such as Mario Lemina already completing a move from Southampton to Nice, while a long-touted loan switch for Leicester's Hamza Choudhury still looks unlikely to materialise.
Isaac Hayden, Jeff Hendrick, the injured Jonjo Shelvey and Sean and Matty Longstaff are the current crop available to Bruce in the middle of the park. He has even used Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie there in pre-season.
The third signing the 60-year-old Toon boss is eyeing is a centre-back.
Fabian Schar, Paul Dummett, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Florian Lejeune are already available but Bruce wants to bring in more pace and another ball-playing defender.
Pressure on Wilson
Without Willock, the pressure on Callum Wilson only increases.
Splashing £20m on the striker, who was 28 when he signed from Bournemouth last summer, was against the club’s usual modus operandi under Mike Ashley.
But his 12 goals were a huge part of what turned out to be a comfortable campaign.
When he missed seven games with a hamstring injury in February and March, Newcastle failed to pick up a single win and looked like being dragged into a relegation battle.
To put it simply, Bruce knows Wilson has to stay fit if the Toon are to avoid a relegation battle this season.
Time to step up
There are plenty of players in Bruce's squad who need to step up to the mark.
Ryan Fraser failed to impress after joining from Bournemouth in September 2020, Jeff Hendrick’s performances were disappointing after his switch from Burnley and strikers Joelinton and Yoshinori Muto have never hit any sort of heights.
They will all have opportunities to showcase their worth in 2021-22 — especially if signings are not forthcoming.
And the onus is also on Bruce, who needs to find a way to get the best from his fringe players.