Newcastle United’s players and staff have been reminded of the need for discretion after details of a heated training-ground altercation between Matt Ritchie and Steve Bruce were leaked to a newspaper.
Ritchie has apologised in front of Newcastle’s first-team squad but it hardly represents the ideal buildup to Sunday’s vital game at West Brom as Bruce endeavours to avoid relegation.
Although Ritchie’s apology was intended to bring closure to the controversy and clear-the-air talks are said to have resolved the issue, Bruce remains under intense pressure after two wins in the past 15 Premier League matches. That sequence has left Newcastle only three points above the relegation zone.
The manager could not hide his frustration following last Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Wolves and Ritchie took issue with Bruce’s claim that the midfielder had failed to pass on tactical instructions regarding a change of formation when he came on seconds before Rúben Neves equalised with his first headed top-tier goal. Ritchie is understood to have retaliated by calling Bruce, among other things, “a coward”.
Ritchie, a Newcastle regular under Rafael Benítez, has lost his starting place in recent months and was frustrated at the collapse of a proposed transfer back to Bournemouth in January.
In the wake of the former Scotland international’s skirmish with Bruce, first reported by the Daily Mail, a squad understood to harbour differing opinions about the current regime have been warned about the need to pull together and present a united front to the outside world. It has been made plain that leaks will not be tolerated.
Bruce controversially also publicly criticised his goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, left-back Jamal Lewis and striker Joelinton after the Wolves game but is expected to pick his words more carefully when he addresses the media on Friday morning.
His cause at the Hawthorns is hampered by the loss of three key players to injuries set to sideline them until April at the earliest. Newcastle’s leading scorer, Callum Wilson, Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin will be absent against the Premier League’s second-bottom team, leaving Bruce low on pace, creativity and potential goalscorers.
Quite apart from the injured trio having scored 16 of Newcastle’s 27 league goals, the attendant loss of speed is similarly far from an ideal for an essentially counterattacking side.