MIKE ASHLEY is continuing to stand by Steve Bruce despite Newcastle United’s miserable season taking yet another turn for the worse as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of relegation rivals Brighton last night.

The Magpies remain just two points clear of the relegation positions after they were comprehensively beaten by a Brighton side that had previously claimed just one home win in the Premier League all season.

In the immediate aftermath of Newcastle’s collapse at the Amex Stadium, a group of supporters congregated outside St James’ Park to unfurl banners that branded Bruce a “coward” and urged Ashley to remove the Magpies manager from his current position.

Social media has also been engulfed by Newcastle supporters calling for a change of boss, but with Bruce once again using his post-match press conference to insist he will not be resigning, senior St James’ Park sources have confirmed that Ashley remains inclined to back the 60-year-old rather than instigate his dismissal.

Ashley, who is currently understood to be abroad carrying out some of his other business obligations, has been in regular contact with Newcastle’s senior executive team over the last few weeks, but does not intend to make any personal interventions during the forthcoming international break, which precedes the Magpies’ next league outing against Tottenham.

The sportswear magnate, whose willingness to enter into arbitration proceedings against the Premier League confirms his ongoing desire to sell up, is believed to be sympathetic to Bruce’s plight as he attributes many of Newcastle’s ongoing troubles to the after-effects of the Covid outbreak that forced the club to shutdown in December, and that the manager believes is at least partly responsible for the large number of injury issues that have afflicted the first-team squad since the turn of the year.

It would cost Ashley around £4m in compensation payments to dismiss Bruce and his coaching team, but while relegation from the Premier League would cost Newcastle more than £100m, not to mention the likely scuppering of any possibility of resurrecting a sale deal with Amanda Staveley’s Saudi Arabia-backed consortium, financial considerations are not uppermost in Ashley’s mind.

The Magpies owner has overseen a change of manager at roughly this stage of the season on two occasions in the past, and each time, the manager he installed – Alan Shearer and Rafael Benitez – was unable to keep Newcastle in the top-flight.

Bruce remains confident he can keep his side out of the bottom three, and while he accepted full responsibility for Saturday’s lacklustre performance, he once again spelled out his determination to remain in his role.

“Whoever was going to get the result was going to get a huge lift,” said the Newcastle boss. “We’ve got to dust ourselves down. Hopefully, we can get a couple back. We’ve got nine games to go. We’ve been doing well of late, to a degree.

“I’ve been in it a long time. We all know what’s ahead of us. We’re still confident we can get out of the situation we’re in. I’ll never give up that fight, that’s for sure.”