Steve Bruce is a good man, a good manager, and I believe he will keep Newcastle United in the Premier League.
But one way or another, I fear his days at St James’ Park are numbered and it might be best for all concerned if they part company this summer – because the atmosphere around the club has become too toxic.
If he stays in place into next season, the fixture computer hands Newcastle a tough start and the fans, readmitted to that fantastic stadium like a fortress overlooking the city, vent their feelings, the environment could be intolerable.
Let’s get it straight: Even if his team’s football this season has often been grinding and stodgy, Bruce has not deserved the tsunami of abuse he’s copped on social media.
He loves Newcastle United, he cares about the club and he is a human being.
It’s no surprise that the return of Allan Saint-Maximin, their most exciting player, from illness and injury has lifted them six points clear of danger. And top scorer Callum Wilson’s comeback will surely help them to secure safety.
Newcastle fans on social media say I should apologise for defending Bruce on Six-0-Six.
Yes, I understand their frustration that a great club is scrambling for safety instead of threatening the top six like West Ham and Everton.
But apologise? What for?
Fans who yearn for the days of swashbuckling, attacking football under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson need to accept those days are gone.
The reality, for most of the last 12 years, is that Newcastle have operated largely in the bottom half of the Premier League and they were relegated twice. That’s not Steve Bruce’s fault.
Owner Mike Ashley is not going to throw hundreds of millions of pounds at the transfer market when he is trying to sell the club.
Bruce has been operating within limited tramlines, and if his bottom line was to keep Newcastle in the top flight, he is within sight of mission accomplished.
I think one more win might be enough to stay up, and I believe they will get it.
So what happens next? According to one poll in the local evening paper, 95 per cent of fans want Bruce to leave, and that’s no basis for stability – on or off the pitch.
His critics are keen to point out that his win percentage as Newcastle (29.6%) equals the lowest of his career (at Sunderland), and it is true that he is no Pep, Klopp, Fergie or Wenger.
But when you look at the clubs he’s managed – Wigan, Hull, Birmingham, Sunderland, Newcastle – they were never going to sweep all before them and march into Europe every year.
Yes, Bruce took Birmingham down in 2006. But he brought them straight back up again.
Yes, he took Hull down in 2015. But only after he had led them to promotion and the FA Cup final.
You don’t clock up nearly 1,000 games as a manager, more than half of them in the Premier League, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Newcastle United fans are a fantastic and loyal bunch. Deep down, I’m sure the decent majority of them know Bruce loves the club as much as they do, even if the style of football has not been great.
When I was a player at Birmingham, he stayed loyal to the Blues when Newcastle came calling for his services about 17 years ago – even though he would have inherited Robson’s squad including Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy, James Milner and Laurent Robert.
In return, I would respectfully suggest Newcastle give him the chance to secure Premier League safety over the last seven games and take stock in the summer.
I’m not saying Bruce should walk away, and I hope he sticks around long enough to win over the doubters – but it might be for the best if club and manager part company.
Then, for everyone’s sake and the prevailing appetite for a fresh start, he can leave Tyneside with his head held high, because the bottom line is this: Steve Bruce is not the most iconic manager, but he knows his way around a football pitch.
And most importantly of all, he’s a decent man.