WHEN Derby County became the worst team in Premier League history in the 2007-08 season, their one and only win of the entire campaign was a 1-0 victory over a hapless Newcastle United. Thirteen years on, and the Magpies have done it again.

Sheffield United might yet end the campaign with a lower points total than Derby, but whatever records they break, Chris Wilder’s side will not go through an entire season without recording a victory. Not when they’ve been able to welcome to Newcastle to Bramall Lane.

Steve Bruce’s side did something no one else has managed as they became the first side to lose to the Blades in the top-flight this season last night, and while there were mitigating factors in terms of Ryan Fraser’s dismissal that forced them to play the whole of the second half with ten men and the controversial VAR decision that led to Sheffield United’s winning goal from the penalty spot, ultimately the Magpies only have themselves to blame.

They were dreadful for the 45 minutes in which they had a full complement of players, with Bruce’s negative team selection a major factor in their defeat. Faced with a side that had picked up a grand total of two points from 17 matches, the Newcastle manager packed his side with defenders and appeared happy to settle for a point.

Serious questions were already being asked about his position prior to kick-off – they will become deafening now. Newcastle remain eight points clear of the relegation zone, and while 18th-placed Fulham now have two games in hand, it can be argued that Bruce’s side are still not in serious danger of suffering the drop.

They are playing like a team destined for relegation though, with last night’s defeat stretching their winless run to eight matches in all competitions, and for all that Mike Ashley will be reluctant to sack his manager while he is still trying to sell up, he must be becoming increasingly concerned at the prospect of having to offload a Championship club come the end of the season. On last night’s evidence, such an eventuality can definitely not be ruled out.

Why on earth was Bruce so conservative with his team selection? Newcastle’s performance was painful to watch even before Fraser’s dismissal, with their lack of adventure especially hard to fathom given they were playing against a side whose confidence was on the floor.

If ever there was a time to get on the front foot and take the game to the opposition, this was surely it. Yet rather than packing his side with attacking options, Bruce named five defenders and three holding midfielders and left five forwards on the substitutes’ bench.

Jeff Hendrick partnered Isaac Hayden in an ultra-conservative central-midfield pairing, with Sean Longstaff bizarrely stationed on the left flank, where he was charged with the task of getting forward to support Callum Wilson. Utterly predictably, he failed to trouble the Sheffield United backline at all.

Wilson and Fraser were the only attack-minded players on the pitch in Newcastle’s illuminous yellow shirts – or at least they were until Fraser got himself sent off on the stroke of half-time - so time and time again, the Magpies’ defenders found themselves with no one to pass to when they had the ball.

Possession was recycled securely enough at the back, but when Bruce’s players eventually decided to look forward, they either found themselves playing aimless long balls in Wilson’s direction or passing into a congested central area in which Longstaff and Hendrick failed to hold on to the ball. It is one thing repeatedly conceding possession against Liverpool or Manchester City; it is quite another to do it against Sheffield United. Newcastle’s players need to improve their ball retention, but Bruce’s tactics are hardly helping them out.

It was a hardly a surprise that it took the visitors 63 minutes to record their first attempt on target, and it said pretty much everything that, when it came, it was a speculative free-kick from the halfway line that saw Fabian Schar try, and fail, to catch Aaron Ramsdale off his line. Nevertheless, for all their attacking shortcomings, Newcastle should still really have claimed the lead in the 28th minute.

One of their rare forays forward ended with Federico Fernandez drilling over a half-volleyed cross from the right, but after stealing ahead of his marker at the front post, Wilson directed a close-range header wide of the target. It was pretty much the striker’s only touch of the ball in the penalty area all night, so he could be forgiven for being somewhat shocked when the opportunity presented itself. Nevertheless, he should still have scored.

Sheffield United also failed to break the deadlock before the interval, although their lack of success owed much to some fine goalkeeping from Karl Darlow and some stout defending from Fernandez in particular.

Darlow kept his place in Newcastle’s starting line-up despite the availability of the fit-again Martin Dubravka, and more than justified his inclusion with a string of fine saves.

He kept out David McGoldrick’s curled 13th-minute shot after the Blades striker broke into the left of the box, and produced another excellent stop three minutes before the break to prevent Jayden Bogle firing home after the wing-back raced on to Oliver Burke’s through ball.

Bogle’s effort came a matter of seconds before Fraser committed the first of the two fouls that resulted in Newcastle being reduced to ten men.

The Scotsman was deservedly booked when he clattered into John Fleck close to the touchline, yet just three minutes later, he committed an even worse challenge on McGoldrick in virtually the exact same position on Sheffield United’s left flank.

Fraser was never going to get anywhere near the ball as he slid in to made contact with McGoldrick’s leg, and referee Andrew Madley was left with no option other than brandishing a second yellow card.

Darlow produced his third important save of the night when he parried Bogle’s driven effort five minutes into the second half, and also came off his line to punch clear on a couple of occasions when Sheffield United’s wide players delivered dangerous balls into the box.

In truth, the Blades struggled to make their man advantage count, but they were handed a golden opportunity via a contentious VAR decision with 17 minutes left.

Fernandez was tussling with Sharp as they battled to reach a long ball into the box, and the Newcastle centre-half appeared to be pushed by his opponent, resulting in his hand brushing against the ball.

Madley was instructed to check his pitch-side monitor, and while Sharp appeared to be tugging Fernandez’s shirt, the referee decided the Magpies’ Argentinian defender was at fault. Sharp stepped up to the spot, and coolly drilled a low finish down the middle.

Rhian Brewster struck the base of the post as Sheffield United tried to increase their advantage, and Newcastle’s only real chance of an equaliser came to nothing when Wilson headed Hendrick’s cross straight at Ramsdale.

Faced with the worst side in the Premier League, Bruce's side had come up short once again.