Lee Payne: Bruce has got it wrong over Norwich City and Premier League
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I have no personal memories of Norwich City winning the League Cup in 1985 – it was more than seven years before I was born.
The most famous goal City scored in that cup run was surely Steve Bruce’s header to overcome a certain Ipswich Town in the semi-finals. I have watched it many times on YouTube.
The floodlights weren’t that bright, the pitch was a churned-up expanse of mud. The corner flew over all of the players gathered at the near post and Bruce timed his run perfectly between two Ipswich defenders. The Barclay went wild, Bruce ran away with his arms above his head before he was engulfed by his teammates.
Bruce was 24 years old at the time. He was good enough to later play for Manchester United and score the goal that won them the first ever Premier League title. That was also a header with more than a passing resemblance to the one he’d scored eight years previously.
These days, of course, he is a manager with a reputation for his teams playing dour football. Newcastle United are his current employers – the eleventh club he has taken charge of to date. It’s his dream job. A boyhood Newcastle fan who was born 16 miles from the city, the young Bruce would crawl under the turnstiles at St James’ Park to watch the Magpies.
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But it’s not going well. Newcastle United is an unhappy place and has been for some time. The owner, Mike Ashley, has been trying to sell the club without success. The fans despise him. They are not keen on Bruce, either, and it’s probably a good thing for him that every game has been behind closed doors this season.
Bruce has raised eyebrows in Norfolk this week by using Norwich as an example of how not to play in the Premier League. Responding to Toon legend Alan Shearer’s plea for Newcastle to attack their way out of the relegation battle, Bruce said City were ‘romping away with their attacking intent in the Championship’ but that in the Premier League ‘you get relegated playing that way’.
As City fans, we shouldn’t take it personally. The former Canary hasn’t taken some time off from his efforts to keep Newcastle in the top flight to put us down. He was merely using us as an example of a club who tried to attack their way to safety and failed to do so.
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The point he was making, that there needs to be a balance between defence and attack, is a valid one and a sensible one. It’s just not what you want to hear from your club’s manager.
It can be argued that Norwich actually enjoyed their best moments in the Premier League last season when they were in full-on attack mode.
In their first home game, they saw off Newcastle, of all teams, with a Teemu Pukki hat-trick. A month later they beat Manchester City. It was when they tried to take a more defensive approach that the campaign fell apart.
Teams down at the bottom are almost always the ones who just can’t stop conceding goals, anyway, so your best bet is surely ‘we’re going to score one more than you’.
It worked for us under Paul Lambert. Those that do manage to stay up usually have someone scoring goals for them – Jermain Defoe’s 15 for Sunderland in 2015-16 were absolutely vital in keeping the Black Cats up and sending Norwich down.
In using Norwich as an example, Bruce has conveniently ignored those clubs who have stayed up by playing attacking football. Leeds are surely the epitome of the art – they've scored 49, conceded 49 and sit comfortably in tenth.
Steve Bruce’s Newcastle play in a way that feels like it belongs in the past, while Daniel Farke’s Norwich City seem to be ahead of their time.
I know which I would rather watch.