ONE point gained; two players lost. Steve Bruce might have been watching the daffodils appear last week, but when it comes to Newcastle United’s green shoots of recovery, any rebirth remains alarmingly fragile.

True, for 45 minutes of Saturday’s game with Wolves, the improvement that had sporadically been discernible in the last month or so was apparent once again. Playing on the front foot, with a fluid front three of Miguel Almiron, Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton repeatedly troubling the Wolves defence, Newcastle did not look a side destined for relegation.

By the time the final whistle had blown though, things had unravelled to the point where a positive night had turned into something much more troubling. Throwing away a lead generated through Jamaal Lascelles’ 52nd-minute header was bad enough, but even more alarming was the sight of Almiron and Saint-Maximin struggling with injuries that could have a profound effect on Newcastle’s survival campaign in the next couple of months. If Almiron’s knee injury is as serious as feared, he might not play again this season. If Saint-Maximin’s post-Covid muscular problem is similar to the ones suffered by Lascelles and Federico Fernandez, he could also struggle to recover properly this term.

Their loss, exacerbating the absence of leading scorer Callum Wilson, would be crippling. Had they not been forced to make a premature departure on Saturday, there is every chance Newcastle would have claimed a third win in the last 14 games. Instead, over that period, they have picked up nine points from a possible 42. Little wonder they find themselves nervously looking over their shoulders.

Luck has certainly not been on their side, although as Bruce himself accepted in the wake of Saturday’s draw, Newcastle’s players have also come up with a myriad of different ways to shoot themselves in the foot. Their manager cannot be absolved when it comes to apportioning blame either.

It was no coincidence that Wolves’ weekend equaliser came as Newcastle’s defenders were trying to reorganise themselves in the wake of a substitution that saw Matt Ritchie replace Emil Krafth, with Isaac Hayden switching to right-back. Speaking in a post-match interview with Sky, Lascelles admitted he did not really know how things were supposed to have been reorganised. Bruce, in his own post-match comments, blamed Ritchie for a miscommunication. Either way, the whole thing was an avoidable mess.

“The direction, which unfortunately Matt Ritchie didn’t get on quick enough,” said Bruce, when asked to account for the cause of the on-field argument which ensued after Wolves’ goal. “It was the instructions of how we were doing it. That was a frustration for all of us, but we’ll have to concede that one and make sure our instructions (get on). We’ll do it from the sideline (next time).”

In terms of the goal itself, which saw Ruben Neves peel off Hayden to head home Pedro Neto’s cross, Bruce was critical of Jamal Lewis, whose defensive deficiencies were highlighted by his failure to close down the crosser, and the recalled Martin Dubravka, who got a hand to Neves’ header but was unable to keep it out. In Dubravka’s defence, he salvaged a point with the remarkable stoppage-time save that saw him claw Fabio Silva’s header onto the crossbar.

Bruce also trained his post-match frustrations on Joelinton, who spurned a golden late chance by directing his 12-yard shot at Romain Saiss. “He should score,” said the Newcastle boss, who is conjuring up a lengthening list of people to blame.