IN their nine Premier League matches this season, Newcastle United have scored a grand total of five goals. No top-flight side have scored fewer. In those nine outings, they have only mustered a combined total of 20 attempts on target. Again, no top-flight side has a worse record.

So, while Saturday’s defeat at Stamford Bridge might have represented a marked improvement from Newcastle’s previous away outing at Leicester City in a number of different areas, two key statistics rendered any talk of progress completely redundant. No goals, not a single shot on target. You can be as well-organised and hard-working as you like, but if you can’t fashion a meaningful goalscoring opportunity over the course of 90 minutes, your season is only going to end one way.

That is the harsh reality Steve Bruce finds himself wrestling with, and while the Newcastle manager is right to point out the difficulty of his side’s start as mitigation for their position in the relegation zone, their latest failure to trouble high-ranking opposition is part of an alarming wider pattern rather than the one-off result of having to take on a team in the top six.

There is no disgrace in not being able to score against Chelsea. But Newcastle couldn’t score against Brighton either. Or Leicester or Arsenal. They found the net against Liverpool and Manchester United, but it says much that their two goals (Jetro Willems at Anfield and Matty Longstaff at St James’ Park) were the result of long-range wonder-strikes. They hardly counter the conclusion that this is a Newcastle side that does not create chances.

Joelinton is still finding his feet after his summer move from Hoffenheim and, despite his £40m price tag, the Brazilian does not look like a natural number nine. If he was, he would be spending much more of his time in the 18-yard box. Allan Saint-Maximin excites when he embarks on a mazy dribble, but is yet to prove he is capable of coming up with an end product. Miguel Almiron looks like a little boy lost, with his failure to produce either a goal or an assist since his January move from the MLS having completely sapped his confidence.

Beyond that trio? You are looking at Andy Carroll and Dwight Gayle, whose late introductions from the substitutes’ bench failed to alter the course of Saturday’s game. Is either physically capable of playing a full 90 minutes against Wolves? And even if they are, what does it say about Newcastle if they are pinning their goalscoring hopes on a pair of players who have not scored a Premier League goal between them since May 2018?

“We have to find a way of being a threat, especially in the games we’ve got coming up now,” admitted Bruce. “The way they’ve been set up, the way they’ve played and the way they’ve gone about things, I can’t fault them. We’ve just got to find that way of being a bit more creative going forward, and of course the big thing in the Premier League is scoring a goal, which is always the most difficult thing to do.

“It’s about making the right choices. When we got into the final third (against Chelsea), we had some wonderful opportunities, but it was a case of ‘if only’. Unfortunately, that happens too much.

“We’ve got to improve on that, but they’re young. Allan is 22, Jo is 23, so they’re young players, we know that. We’ve got a very young squad at the minute, which is great. But the one thing they will have to do is improve, and hopefully that will make sure we get the goals we need to take us to where we want to be.”

Given the matches that are coming up in the next couple of months, that improvement will have to be immediate. Having negotiated their difficult start at just under a point a game, Newcastle are about to embark on a pre-Christmas spell that could well define their season.

Take out the home game with Manchester City at the end of next month, and the rest of the Magpies’ next seven matches pit them against sides that are no higher than tenth in the table. Clearly, that is a golden opportunity. But it is also a different challenge to the one Newcastle have proved they can handle against Tottenham, Manchester United and, to a slightly lesser extent, Chelsea.

At home to the likes of Wolves, Bournemouth and Southampton, can Bruce’s side get on to the front foot? Do they boast sufficient creativity to unlock a massed opposition defence? Or will their lack of a cutting edge become even more acute as their opponents look to pick them off on the break?

“We’ve had a really difficult start in terms of who we’ve played,” said Bruce. “We’ve played Tottenham, Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and now Chelsea. We’ve been away to Leicester – we’ve had a really tough start. We’ve now got a run of games where, with no disrespect, we’re going to be playing the teams that are going to be in and around us. It’s a vitally important time and we’ll look forward to it.”

At least Newcastle will head into their next chunk of matches with the memory of their capitulation at Leicester’s King Power Stadium behind them. There was no repeat of that horror show at the weekend, with the Magpies matching Chelsea for the opening 45 minutes before their resistance was gradually eroded in the second half.

Martin Dubravka’s only first-half intervention saw him parry a shot from Mason Mount, but the momentum was shifting decisively in Chelsea’s favour by the time Tammy Abraham headed against the crossbar from a corner shortly before the hour mark.

Abraham failed to find the target with another free header shortly after, but while Dubravka saved from Christian Pulisic and Willian as Newcastle tried to hold out, the Slovakian was beaten with 17 minutes left.

Cesar Azpilicueta crossed from the right, Callum Hudson-Odoi laid the ball off into Marcos Alonso’s path, and the former Sunderland full-back drilled home a crisp low strike.

DeAndre Yedlin blocked a goal-bound effort from Abraham to prevent Chelsea doubling their lead, but Newcastle’s only threat of an equaliser came to nothing with a minute left as Ciaran Clark headed over from Christian Atsu’s cross.

“It was a bit too high,” said Clark, who produced another accomplished performance as part of Newcastle’s five-man defence. “I knew there was other lads around, and I heard Jamaal (Lascelles) shouting. But I just couldn’t get up and get it back into him.

“We didn’t really create a clear-cut chance. We were always a threat going forward with the pace of Max and Miggy. Late on we were chucking balls into the box hoping for that knock-down or someone to get a bit of luck, but it never really happened.

“But for a lot of the game we limited them. There were some great blocks - Yedlin made one and Martin made some great saves.

“We tried to keep them at bay, but in the second half, when it keeps coming back and back and we couldn’t really get out of our half as much as we did in the first half, we found that pretty tough.

“It’s something we’ll try and look at and improve. We put a good performance in. Everyone worked hard, and we did cause problems going forward in the first half. We’ll try and take the positives from that.”