Steve Bruce guided Newcastle to a win on their final home game of the season, but knows he still has a long way to go to get the Toon Army on his side.
The Magpies could finish as high as 12th if they can defeat Fulham on the final day and other results go their way. But Bruce, who watched Joe Willock head his side to a 1-0 win over Sheffield United, knows he has a lot of work to do. Willock was urged to make his stay at Newcastle permanent after he scored in a sixth successive Premier League game to hand the Magpies victory.
On a night when Allan Saint-Maximin turned in a virtuoso performance to mesmerise the relegated Blades’ defence, the 10,000 members of the Toon Army allowed into St James’ Park for the first time since February last year implored the 21-year-old Arsenal loanee in song to make Tyneside his home next season.
They also made their feelings clear about owner Mike Ashley and the Premier League as the club’s takeover saga rumbles on, but in the main they celebrated a 1-0 win which took the club to 42 points, two fewer than they managed last season with a game to go.
Bruce, asked by TV, if fans will be buying him a pint at one of the pubs close to St James’ Park, said: “I somehow doubt it.
“I think I will just go home thank you.”
The 60-year-old head coach, who has faced concerted criticism since replacing Rafael Benitez at the helm two summers ago, was jeered by some among the crowd.
Asked about the boos afterwards, Bruce said: “Look, as I’ve said from day one when I walked through the door here, I’m never going to be everybody’s cup of tea and I accept that, unfortunately. But that’s the way it is.”
Asked further if he was hurt by it, he added: “Everybody is entitled to their opinion and that’s the way it is, unfortunately.
“The supporters were terrific. When you think there were only 10,000 here, it’s amazing the difference. We could have put it to bed a bit earlier. Some of our play in the first half very decent.”
On the prospects of keeping Willock at Newcastle, Bruce said: “As I have said before, it’s a doubled-edged sword. We have to respect he’s Arsenal’s player.
“If we can, we’d love to bring him here. Let’s see what we can do because he’s exactly what we needed. Joe has still got a lot to learn but we have given him a freedom and a licence to get forward. He is a young player enjoying his football.”
On the future, Bruce added: “We all aspire to take Newcastle into the top half of the table. We have to be actively better than just surviving. We have got the makings of a half decent team.”
Regarding injuries, Bruce said: “We have struggled. It has practically been two years non-stop for the players. There are a few bumps and bruises in the dressing room.”