WITH his job on the line, Steve Bruce is clearly trying to deflect the blame for both Newcastle United’s miserable start to the season and the increasingly toxic atmosphere it has helped generate.

Asked about his decision to go on holiday to Portugal during the international break in the wake of Newcastle’s weekend defeat at Old Trafford, and having previously deflected a question about the chants aimed in his direction in the closing stages of the game, Bruce took aim at his questioner from the Evening Chronicle.

“To have to answer questions like that, it’s typical of the question I would get off you,” said an irate Bruce. “And your newspaper, if I’m being brutally honest. That’s why they (the supporters) are the way they are, the way you are and your negativity, constantly, and your newspaper.”

There are a couple of things to say at this point. First, I’ve known Lee Ryder, the journalist asking the question, for many years, and neither he nor his newspaper have been unduly negative during Bruce’s reign. They certainly don’t have an agenda against the Newcastle boss.

Second, this is far from the first time Bruce has had a go at the regional and national press over the course of the last year or so. A journalist has been banned for his coverage of the club and the ability of members of the written press to ask questions at Bruce’s pre and post-match Zoom calls has become increasingly restricted. Saturday’s outburst was remarkable, but it was the lancing of a running sore that has been throbbing away in the background for a while now.

Bruce evidently feels the world is out to get him, and there are reasons to have some sympathy for his position. He was expecting to get reinforcements on deadline day, and they failed to arrive. His leading goalscorer and attacking talisman is injured, with no real guarantee yet of a return date, and he is battling against an increasingly hostile home support, some of whom never wanted him in the first place, and others who have gradually turned against him over the course of the last few months. In many ways, he is tackling the impossible job.

That is not the media’s fault though, and it is even more misguided to try to pin the blame on Newcastle’s long-suffering supporters. ‘They’ are not ‘the way they are’ because of a few negative headlines and some chuntering on social media.

The disillusionment of the Newcastle support is a long-running theme that has ebbed and flowed throughout Mike Ashley’s reign, but which has never been far from the surface during Bruce’s two years in charge of his hometown team.

It feels like it has become accentuated in the first month of the current campaign, partly because of Newcastle’s results – one point from their opening four Premier League matches and a Carabao Cup defeat at the hands of Burnley – and partly because of the refusal to recruit more than one player during the transfer window.

Bruce can justifiably claim that the second of those issues was out of his hands, but if he truly believes that, he should have the courage of his conviction and call out those above him for their lack of investment. That might well result in his dismissal – it certainly did for Kevin Keegan and was a huge factor in the decision not to retain Rafael Benitez - but at least it would mean the true root cause of Newcastle’s problems was being openly discussed.

Instead, when Bruce was given an opportunity to criticise Ashley and Lee Charnley about Newcastle’s transfer business during his press briefing on Friday, he toed the part line. Hence, supporters will understandably feel he is complicit in the failings.

Those failings are being played out on the pitch, and ultimately the buck has to stop with Bruce when it comes to Newcastle’s results. Anyone can lose at Old Trafford, but heading into Friday’s game with Leeds, the harsh reality is that the Magpies are sitting in 19th position, without a win to their name this season.

If that doesn’t change on Friday, there is every chance the anger and frustration will intensify even more. And Bruce will have to come up with someone new to blame.