EARLIER this week, a report emerged suggesting Steve Bruce had received what effectively amounted to a vote of confidence from his employers at Newcastle United.

With the Magpies seven points clear of the relegation zone ahead of this evening’s game at Crystal Palace, and with Mike Ashley still trying to resurrect a takeover deal that would see him sell up to Amanda Staveley’s Saudi Arabia-backed consortium, it is no surprise that Ashley is in no mood to start considering a change of manager.

Nevertheless, the fact that the issue was raised at all is instructive. These are not harmonious times on Tyneside, with the discontent that has festered throughout Bruce’s reign gathering in intensity in the wake of this month’s defeats to Southampton and Chelsea.

Speaking as the Government announced that the North-East would be placed into tier three of the new coronavirus regulation system yesterday, Bruce bemoaned the fact that supporters would continue to be banned from St James’ Park. Had they been present during last weekend’s defeat to Chelsea, however, it would almost certainly not have made for pleasant listening for the Newcastle boss.

“I haven’t had any reassurances or displeasure communicated,” said Bruce, when asked about this week’s report about his own position. “Look, we haven’t played well enough in the last two games. We found it very difficult against a very good Chelsea side, and we went far too deep, too early. It’s difficult when you concede early, and we gave them too much respect.

“We have to make sure that we’re better. We have to accept the criticism that comes our way and roll our sleeves up and be better.”

Does that mean a change of playing style? Not necessarily. There is a good chance that Bruce will tinker with his tactics at Selhurst Park tonight, switching from a back five to a flat back four. However, that will not mean the Magpies suddenly going gung-ho and throwing players high up the field.

The statistics of Newcastle’s season do not make for pleasant reading. No Premier League side has recorded fewer shot on target than the Magpies, just as no top-flight side has needed their goalkeeper to make as many saves as Karl Darlow.

At both ends of the field, failings have been evident, yet while Newcastle’s critics can point to a number of matches that highlight the Magpies’ weaknesses, so Bruce can flag up the wins over West Ham, Burnley and Everton as evidence that his approach works.

Like everything, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. On their day, Newcastle are capable of beating the teams in and around them in the table. When they are having an off day, though, they tend to be dreadful.

“At the end of the day, we’re all judged on results and where we finish,” said Bruce. “We would have liked to have been a bit higher last year, but that’s where we are. At this particular moment, we are around where we finished last season, so my focus is on trying to improve.

“In my mind, I still don’t think I’ve picked the team I would like to pick just yet, for one or two reasons. I understand that with the Premier League it’s about getting a result and playing well, and when you don’t then you come under scrutiny. It’s as simple as that.

“But I didn’t hear many grumblings after the way we played against Everton. We were okay. The way we played against West Ham, the way we played against Burnley, for 80 minutes against Man United, we did okay.

“It is what it is, but you have to accept the criticism that comes upon you, and yes, we haven’t played well enough in the last two games. I don’t think we need to analyse the whole 16 months (of his reign) though. You are where you are, and are judged when you come to the end of it.”

Win tonight, and Newcastle will climb into the top half of the table. Lose, and they could end the weekend just two places above the relegation zone. With games against West Brom, Leeds and Fulham to come before Christmas, not to mention a Carabao Cup quarter-final at Brentford, the Magpies are heading into a pivotal month.