The astronomical pay-off that suggests Steve Bruce is staying and why United have turned a corner – Chronicle Live

Newcastle United players found a reaction against Tottenham Hotspur after a fortnight of soul searching following the abysmal defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion.

Whether some of them thought that a change in head coach was the best course of action will probably never be discussed in public any time soon, but the penny appeared to drop last week at Benton.

The Toon squad were told that Steve Bruce is going nowhere and with nobody in the Newcastle dressing room wanting another relegation on their playing records they have reacted accordingly to the situation.

Bruce’s release fee is believed to be astronomical and sewn into his contract meaning only he can spark a change of manager by resigning, something he doesn’t want to do.

Of course, nobody would walk away from a fortune in football these days, but Bruce feels he can weather the storm and have another crack at things next season in the Premier League to see out the remainder of his contract.

His players – who all shook his hand as they left the field against Spurs – can now determine what happens next and they looked much better at the weekend.

With eight games to go, this is a big positive for United and unlike the class of 2009, who effectively only woke up when it was too late, the current crop have been here before.

In 2016, Newcastle were in big trouble from January onwards and neither Steve McClaren nor even Rafa Benitez could find the winning formula in time.

This time the responsibility is firmly on the shoulders of the players and while Bruce has to shoulder a portion of the blame too as boss, there is something to salvage from a torrid season overall for the players.

Playing in the Sky Bet Championship would be a blow to many of them after insisting they were still Premier League players to the board and earning bumper contracts off the back of it.

Although it is quite sad and some players may have thought that the manager’s departure was the only way to get them playing again.

No player goes on to the pitch and tries to lose a game on purpose, but their mood and attitude towards the manager can make a major difference.

Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson had players running through brick walls while Rafa Benitez’s style left players hungry to prove him wrong.

One thing is for certain with Bruce though – the squad as a whole desperately wanted him to come in back in 2019.

A senior player even took the time at the team hotel in Nanjing to insist to myself and a colleague that players believed he was capable of leading them and that the gloomy narrative around the club had to change two years ago.

So what has happened since then?

Well, Bruce knew he would need time to win the players over and he tried to keep the team onside by going back on his plan to change the formation.

Initially, he wanted to play more attacking football but felt the players had been conditioned into a back five, so stuck with it.

Finishing last season in 13th place and reaching the FA Cup quarter-final wasn’t spectacular but Bruce had reached a point, after the 3-2 win at West Brom in round five, where he had gained a bit of respect from some sections of fans.

This season has been a rocky road for him though.

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After sitting in 11th place in the table after the 2-1 win over Everton in November, Bruce already had the team in the quarter-finals of the League Cup and had a genuine opportunity to reach a semi-final for the first time since 2005 at United.

His real problems started when Covid ripped through the squad and some untimely injuries to Allan Saint-Maximin began to disrupt things.

At the start of December, the 2-1 win over West Brom had Newcastle in 12th place with 17 points after 11 games and 11 points clear of the drop zone.

It’s after that narrow win that things started to get really heated and uncomfortable for Bruce as Newcastle crashed out of the League Cup at Brentford with the exit a particular tipping point for some detractors.

After landing Arsenal in the FA Cup, Newcastle’s season was already looking like it was on the rocks after the 2-0 extra time defeat at the Emirates Stadium.

But the shocking display at Sheffield United resulted in louder calls for Bruce to go and banners appeared at the ground on a night when the rock bottom side triumphed 1-0.

Yet Bruce and Newcastle limped on without winning until the 2-0 victory at Everton in late January.

This was followed by the 3-2 win over Southampton on a day when the Magpies ended the game with nine men and the question of whether players were fighting for the cause couldn’t be levelled at them.

With 23 games gone, Bruce had Newcastle 10 points clear of the relegation zone with 15 matches to play.

Yet they haven’t won since and have spluttered to three defeats and four draws with Fulham playing catch-up at the bottom.

The weekend draw with Spurs turned out to be a good point as the Cottagers lost at Aston Villa and have played a game more.

Bruce’s tally of 29 points from 30 games leaves them teetering above the drop zone but they can do themselves every favour by beating Burnley this weekend.

If the players can produce a winning display it would ease nerves on Tyneside and regardless of Fulham’s outcome against Wolves on Friday night it would inject belief that the Magpies can get things together to avoid a final day showdown at Craven Cottage.