Steve Bruce said he may be on his worst run of results in 20 years as a manager but was encouraged by his Newcastle side’s second-half display in a home defeat by Leeds.
Tuesday’s loss – inflicted by goals from Raphinha and Jack Harrison for the visitors, either side of a Miguel Almiron finish – was Newcastle’s fifth in a row in the Premier League and means them have now picked up just two points from the past 27 available to them.
They have now not won in 11 games in all competitions – the longest such run of Bruce’s career. The last time he endured a similarly lengthy run without victory was a 10-game stretch as Aston Villa boss between December 2016 and February 2017.
However, Almiron did end Newcastle’s run of 454 minutes of football without a goal during a much-improved second-half showing, which saw Jamaal Lascelles clip the bar with a header following a corner and Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier make a number of good saves.
“This league is demanding and cruel at times,” Bruce told BBC Sport. “I don’t know if I’ve been on a worse run in 20 years but tonight, I’ve seen a little bit of something and we will start again tomorrow.”
Newcastle have been deprived of some of their best attacking talent in recent weeks because of injury and illness, chief among them Allan Saint-Maximin, but the French winger came off the bench against Leeds and almost inspired his side to a point.
“Any club near the bottom, if you take out your best players going forward, they make such a huge difference,” added Bruce.
“Saint-Maximin has been the one, along with Almiron, who lifts the place up with their ability and to be more of a goal threat, we need him and Ryan Fraser to stay fit.
“If those two stay well and Almiron stays well, then hopefully we have a front three that will create enough to hopefully get us where we want to be.”
Where they are now is seven points above the relegation zone but having played two more games than 18th-placed Fulham. Leeds are seven points better off in 12th place in the table.
Leeds edge it but there are positives for Newcastle
Raphinha was key to Leeds’ win, superbly slotting in the opener after he was found by Rodrigo and then supplying the pass for Harrison’s superb winner. The Brazilian winger also hit the post from a tight angle in the first half and tracked back tirelessly to help his defence.
The Whites have struggled in recent games, failing to score in back-to-back losses against Tottenham and Brighton, either side of an FA Cup humbling at League Two Crawley, but this was a decent riposte to their critics.
It means they have now done the league double over Newcastle for the first time since 1975-76.
Leeds’ victory came at a cost, though, with Spain international centre-back Diego Llorente limping off less than 10 minutes into his full debut to continue the injury woes he has suffered since joining the club in September.
From the outside, Bruce’s position appears perilous and edging towards untenable.
The conservative football Newcastle have served up for much of the campaign is palatable only if it brings results with it, but those have long dried up for a side whose meagre return of points since a 5-2 loss at Elland Road in mid-December has seen them plummet into trouble.
A week ago, Bruce declared it was time Newcastle started playing “my way” – something he has subsequently clarified to mean defending 20-30 yards higher up the pitch.
There was little evidence of that in the first half as Leeds comfortably took control of possession and the contest through Raphinha’s well-taken goal.
Leeds are not in their best moment of the season, but their opponents’ stand-offish approach in the first 45 minutes acted as a leg-up, and as Marcelo Bielsa’s side have demonstrated already they need little invitation to ruthlessly pour forward.
Bruce and owner Mike Ashley are fortunate that St James’ Park is empty at the moment, sparing them both what would have been the ire of 50,000 frustrated home fans at the half-time whistle.
However, Bruce warrants a tip of the cap for his changes in the second half, which saw his side harry the visitors higher up the pitch and look more dangerous than they have at any stage this year.
But for Meslier and a better placed header from Lascelles from a corner they would have had a point, possibly more.
Ultimately, though, Leeds had the edge. Their goals were a showcase for the incisive attacking play we have seen in spades this campaign, while their resilience in the second half is a rare but pleasing facet that will serve them well if they can maintain it.
“We expected a difficult game,” said Bielsa. “There was a 20-minute spell after Jack Harrison’s goal where it was difficult to control the game.
“For us it was a game we needed to win and it was very difficult but we managed to do it.”
Newcastle’s worst run since May 2015
- Newcastle have lost six consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since a run of eight in May 2015.
- Newcastle are winless in nine Premier League games (D2 L7), their longest run without a win in the competition since October 2018 (10 games).
- Leeds are the final Premier League side to score in 2021, ending a run of 304 minutes in all competitions without a goal.
- Leeds United’s Raphinha has been directly involved in six goals (three goals, three assists) in his six Premier League away starts for the club – scoring and assisting in a single league game tonight for the first time since April 2019 (for Sporting Lisbon).
- Miguel Almiron’s 57th-minute strike for Newcastle ended a run of 454 minutes of football without a goal in all competitions for the Magpies, since Andy Carroll’s goal v Leicester.
- Raphinha became the first Leeds United player to score each of his first three Premier League goals for the club away from home, since Michael Bridges in August 1999.
- Newcastle’s Fabian Schar made his 50th Premier League start tonight, becoming the ninth Swiss player to reach the milestone in the competition.
Newcastle are away at Everton, who have won four of their last five games, on Saturday for a 12:30 GMT kick-off. Leeds play a day later, away at high-flying Leicester in a game that gets under way at 14:00.
- 5SchärBooked at 85mins
- 23MurphySubstituted forSaint-Maximinat 64′minutes
- 21FraserSubstituted forGayleat 77′minutes
- 4M Longstaff
- 14LlorenteSubstituted forStruijkat 10′minutes
- 10AlioskiBooked at 54minsSubstituted forKlichat 56′minutes
- 20RodrigoBooked at 85mins
- 22HarrisonBooked at 89mins
- 9BamfordSubstituted forRobertsat 60′minutes
- 17Hélder Costa
Match ends, Newcastle United 1, Leeds United 2.
Second Half ends, Newcastle United 1, Leeds United 2.
Raphinha (Leeds United) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United).
Tyler Roberts (Leeds United).
Karl Darlow (Newcastle United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Leeds United. Conceded by Jamaal Lascelles.
Attempt blocked. Mateusz Klich (Leeds United) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Tyler Roberts.
Jack Harrison (Leeds United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Jack Harrison (Leeds United).
Miguel Almirón (Newcastle United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Leeds United. Conceded by Jamal Lewis.
Fabian Schär (Newcastle United) is shown the yellow card.
Rodrigo (Leeds United) is shown the yellow card.
Rodrigo (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Fabian Schär (Newcastle United).
Attempt missed. Dwight Gayle (Newcastle United) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left from a direct free kick.
Foul by Liam Cooper (Leeds United).
Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Fabian Schär (Newcastle United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Jamaal Lascelles.