STEVE BRUCE felt referee Mike Dean was wrong to dismiss Fabian Schar in Newcastle United’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal yesterday afternoon, and admitted he had specifically requested that his players adopted a more aggressive approach in the second half of the game.

The Magpies suffered their first defeat in five matches as goals from Mohamed Elneny and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang secured Arsenal a morale-boosting success ahead of this week’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal.

Newcastle were already well beaten by the time Schar was dismissed in the final minute, with Dean reaching for a straight red card after the Swiss defender slid in and caught Gabriel Martinelli.

Schar unquestionably caught Martinelli as he mistimed his challenge, but it was not a two-footed tackle and Bruce felt that a yellow card would have more than sufficed.

“The one thing I was demanding of them at half-time was to be a bit more aggressive,” said Bruce, who only introduced Schar from the substitutes’ bench 18 minutes before he was sent off. “We had to get after them and tackle them.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to take all contact away from the game, which for me, is difficult to understand. If there’s no tackles allowed, how are you supposed to get in and amongst Arsenal?

“For me, it’s a yellow card at best. We’ll have another look at it, but I thought at the time it was harsh to get a red. The way these rules are at the moment, the referees are under pressure to obey them. I still think it was harsh because it was not a real reckless challenge as far as I’m concerned.”

Newcastle’s defeat means they remain nine points clear of the relegation zone with four games remaining, with 18th-placed Fulham having lost to Chelsea on Saturday night.

The Magpies could still do with picking up at least one more victory in their remaining matches, with Bruce admitting that yesterday’s defeat was something of an opportunity missed.

“We’re in a damn sight better position than we were a month ago, but we’re disappointed with our second defeat in nine,” he said. “Just at the right time, we’ve hit a bit of form, but we’ve not played well enough today to beat a good Arsenal team.

“I’ve said all along, it’s the accumulation of points, and we’ve got four games left. The disappointment is that we could have gone 13th in the table, but we’ve missed that opportunity.

“The big disappointment is that we didn’t do enough against them. We didn’t play well enough, and to beat any Arsenal team, we were going to have to play better than we did. Unfortunately, we gave away an awful goal and never really recovered until half-time.

“We had our best spell just after half-time, but unfortunately they broke away and scored. It was a difficult afternoon for us.”