STEVE BRUCE’S Newcastle United reign did not get off to the most auspicious of starts. Having been appointed as Rafael Benitez’s successor in the summer of 2019, Bruce flew to China to lead Newcastle in the Premier League Asia Trophy, only to discover that he was unable to secure a work visa in time and so was unable to manage his side in their match against West Ham.

At the time, it felt as though things had to improve from that point onwards. Two-and-a-half years on, and as he prepares for an exit that still feels inevitable despite this week’s heel-dragging from Newcastle’s new owners, the shambolic start to Bruce’s reign seems fitting. He didn’t lead Newcastle in China, and it can be argued that he hasn’t made much of a fist of managing the club in the 27 months since.

Bruce will argue he has not had a fair roll of the dice during his time in charge of his hometown club, and when assessing a reign that is widely regarded as a failure amongst the Newcastle fanbase, mitigating factors have to be acknowledged. Could anyone have brought success to St James’ Park during a period when Mike Ashley’s sole ambition was to sell up and therefore his investment into the club was minimal? It seems extremely unlikely.

That said, however, there have still been issues and decisions specific to Bruce’s reign that have soured his relationship with a fanbase he was once part of and resulted in a recent Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust poll revealing that almost 95 per cent of fans want his dismissal. As things stand, Bruce will remain in charge for Sunday’s home game with Tottenham. With a change of manager inevitable at some stage soon though, it will not be too long before those fans get their wish.

Few will mourn his departure when it arrives, and while that might seem somewhat harsh, Bruce hardly took on the job with his eyes closed. Speaking at his first press conference as Newcastle manager in China, he said: “I understand the challenge of what lies ahead. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but whoever was in this seat would have found it difficult. I’ll have to put up with some nonsense, but I’m determined to grasp the opportunity and have a go.”

Bruce knew he was on the back foot from the off. There is a narrative that has gathered some traction amongst elements of the national press that suggests Newcastle fans were against Bruce from the outset because he had previously managed Sunderland. That is nonsense. What is unarguably true, however, is that a significant section of the Newcastle support did not want Bruce as manager because he was not Benitez, or at least because his appointment was regarded as both a retrograde step and evidence of a lack of ambition after Benitez was allowed to leave in the summer of 2019.

From the moment he walked through the door, Bruce was regarded as little more than an Ashley stooge, willing to do his owner’s bidding because he was so desperate to hold on to his ‘dream job’ and therefore unwilling to challenge those above him in the way Benitez had done throughout his reign. That is a perception he has been unable to change during his time in the St James’ Park hotseat, in fact, if anything, it has solidified.

It has not helped that Bruce’s perceived lack of ambition has chimed with Ashley’s. Bruce will claim he was only being honest when he persistently sought to downplay expectations, but given his history as a supporter, his inability to read the room when it comes to championing Newcastle’s status as one of England’s biggest clubs is remarkable. Did he really think supporters would tolerate a goal of ‘ticking over’? Did he really think an admission that Newcastle were scraping around in the loan market, hoping to pick up leftovers from the “big clubs’” table, would go down well? Privately accepting that Newcastle’s aim at the start of the season is simply to avoid relegation is one thing; openly admitting it and repeating it at just about every press conference is quite another.

As ever with football, none of that would have mattered quite as much if Newcastle had been winning or playing attractive football. Instead, the Magpies’ results under Bruce have been poor, with the style and standard of their play for the vast majority of his reign even worse.

Bruce’s win record as Newcastle manager currently stands at a fairly pitiful 29 per cent, and while there has been the occasional standout result– home wins over Manchester United and Chelsea, an away thrashing of Leicester – performances and results in the last two-and-a-half years have generally been regressive.

What is Bruce’s preferred style? He repeatedly claims he wants his side to be “more attacking” and “play on the front foot”, yet the moment things start going wrong, he pushes them back and seems to prioritise damage limitation. While bemoaning comparisons to “the mighty Rafa”. Similarly, while he claims to want to play with four at the back, he constantly reverts to a flat back five because “the players feel more comfortable like that”. Surely, through management and coaching, he could change their outlook?

Instead, he has become embroiled in a series of unnecessary spats, both with his players – a fall-out with Allan Saint-Maximin was denied, but a training-ground bust-up with Matt Ritchie was acknowledged – and members of the North-East press, who he seems convinced have a vendetta against him.

In the eyes of the supporters, he is always looking for someone to blame, but while he has unquestionably been working in a difficult environment, he has ultimately brought the vast majority of his failings on himself. “I’m like every Geordie living the dream. How lucky am I,” he mused on day one in China. One wonders how he would answer that question now.