Newcastle proved John Terry hopelessly wrong, mooted staff shake-up and the mavericks set for role – Ciaran Kelly

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It was another unhappy return to Villa Park for Steve Bruce but there was one saving grace for the Newcastle United head coach.

This time around, at least, there were no humiliating taunts of ‘Brucie, what’s the score?’ from the Holte End during the Magpies’ 2-0 defeat – and that is before you even take into account how Newcastle supporters would have reacted.

With the game obviously taking place behind closed doors, Bruce did not encounter any hostility whatsoever on his return to his old stomping ground.

Instead, John Terry, who was filling in for the suspended Dean Smith on the touchline, warmly welcomed Bruce back to Villa Park as the pair chatted ahead of kick-off.

Bruce, of course, signed Terry for Villa in 2017 – the deal was effectively done on a golf course in the Algarve – and it did not come as a surprise that the former England captain spoke highly of his opposite number before the game.

“He’ll certainly have them up for it tonight,” the Villa assistant said. “Obviously, he’s coming back to his old club as well so we’ve got to be careful of them.

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“They’re very good on the transition and the counter-attack as well, which we’ve been hurt with before.”

Terry, naturally, was respectful towards the visitors but the reality is he need not have worried: Newcastle failed to even lay a glove on high-flying Villa.

Yes, Newcastle made a steady start – the sight of Jonjo Shelvey pressing high up the pitch is not one we are accustomed to – but the Magpies were again undone by some poor defending for Ollie Watkins’ opener on 13 minutes.

Heads again began to drop and, with Andy Carroll and Callum Wilson starved of service, a response was never on the cards – particularly after Bertrand Traore doubled Villa’s advantage before half-time.

You can bet Bruce called on his side to try and win the second half but the lack of intensity from Newcastle after the break was startling as Villa moved the ball around with ease and the visitors stood off. You would not have known that Villa have had to contend with a COVID-19 outbreak of their own this winter.

Newcastle may have finished above Villa last season – Smith’s side stayed up by the skin of their teeth on the final day – but these are two clubs moving in very different directions.

Yes, Villa have spent big but, crucially, they also appear to have spent well. Jack Grealish aside, who came through the club’s academy, 10 of those players who started against Newcastle have arrived since Villa were promoted back to the Premier League in 2019 and they all look the part.

In contrast, Newcastle’s record signing, Joelinton, did not even get on the field and few of Magpies’ imports have pushed on since joining the club on Bruce’s watch.

The belated introduction of Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser did give Newcastle a little shot in the arm in the 70th minute but, ultimately, Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez was not seriously tested.

With a huge game to come against Leeds at St James’ Park on Tuesday night, Bruce appears to have placed his faith in his returning mavericks to get Newcastle out of this mess despite their lack of match fitness.

Allan Saint-Maximin enters the fray for Newcastle United against Aston Villa at Villa Park on January 23, 2021
Allan Saint-Maximin enters the fray for Newcastle United against Aston Villa at Villa Park on January 23, 2021

That, perhaps, reflects what a dire situation Newcastle are in following a 10-game winless run in all competitions.

Saint-Maximin returned to the match day squad for the first time since November 21 on Saturday night after his battle with COVID-19 and the virus’ sapping after-effects, and the Magpies’ talisman will need time to get back to his best.

Fraser, meanwhile, has made just three league starts since his summer move to St James’ Park and the Scot was sent off against Sheffield United when he was last included in the first XI.

However, with his side having scored just one goal in 744 minutes of football, Bruce appears likely to turn to the pair against Leeds.

As well as banking on Saint-Maximin and Fraser making an impact, Newcastle’s hierarchy appear to hope a backroom shuffle will also spark the black-and-whites into life.

Graeme Jones was managing Luton a year ago but the Gateshead native may well jump at the chance to return to the Premier League as an assistant after a spell working as Bournemouth’s first-team coach.

Newcastle look in need of ideas and Jones has made his name in coaching circles for his proactive philosophy – landing punches rather than sitting back – and for his popular sessions, which are continuously tweaked to keep players on their toes.

Whether that is enough to reverse Newcastle’s slide is a different matter altogether. It feels like one last throw of the dice.


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