Steve Bruce has complained of feeling “insulted” by suggestions he is a “lucky” manager destined to soon be “found out”. In private Newcastle’s manager must surely acknowledge his team have been fortunate at times this season but there was nothing remotely flukey about this ultimately comfortable deconstruction of Burnley.
Indeed, on a night when Allan Saint-Maximin shone in a much‑improved home performance, the only caveat was that Sean Dyche’s team were generally so poor it was easy to see why they are still without a point.
“We’ve all had our fair share of criticism,” said Bruce. “But we’ve hopefully quietened a few – for a while anyway. Saint-Maximin can do things other people can’t. He’s explosive.”
There had been murmurings that Saint-Maximin and Bruce have not always exactly seen eye to eye just lately so it seemed significant that, immediately the Frenchman scored, he raced to embrace Newcastle’s manager in the technical area before hugging three of his backroom staff.
There is nothing like a goal to restore harmony and Saint‑Maximin’s was a good one. When Callum Wilson flicked Karl Darlow’s 14th-minute punt into his path, the former Nice winger embarked on a slaloming run involving the bypassing of five supposed markers. It concluded with the expert dodging of Dale Stephens and the unleashing of a low drive which Nick Pope touched but could not hold.
If Saint-Maximin’s serpentine left-wing advances left Dyche’s defence in a terrible twist, they did not always enjoy coping with Jeff Hendrick’s right-wing presence either. The Ireland midfielder joined Newcastle from Burnley as a free agent this summer in a move Dyche dubbed “unnecessary” and which perhaps proved emblematic of the tensions between the manager and the Turf Moor board surrounding contract renewals and new signings.
It appears that the toxicity in the corridors of power is exerting a debilitating effect on the pitch. Indeed it was surely indicative that the move that prefaced Ashley Barnes having a goal disallowed – correctly – for offside represented a rare first-half fright for Newcastle.
Both teams were configured in matching 4-4-2 formations but only Bruce’s version seemed to functioning anything like effectively in a sometimes scrappy, scratchy, attritional contest.
Whereas Charlie Taylor often held his own against Hendrick, Phil Bardsley struggled horribly against Saint-Maximin until he finally succeeded in clattering his nemesis. As the winger limped off at half-time there was a sense that the gloomiest, and dampest, of Tyneside evenings might be set to become even darker but, bolstered by a pair of woolly gloves, he appeared for the second half. “I’ve known Phil Bardsley since he was 12 so I’m not surprised he had a few kicks at Allan,” said Bruce.
Presumably galvanised by a Dyche pep talk at the interval, Burnley were, albeit temporarily, a team transformed. They equalised through Ashley Westwood’s superb volley in the wake of Newcastle’s failure to clear the fallout from a corner Westwood had taken himself, permitting Bardsley to deliver the goal-creating cross.
Another cross, low and from Saint-Maximin, now recast as a No 10, permitted Callum Wilson to restore Newcastle’s lead courtesy of a tap-in after another coruscating dribble from the man of the match ended with a disorientated Dwight McNeil and Taylor given the slip.
Ryan Fraser replaced Saint‑Maximin and promptly won a penalty – converted by Wilson – after Pope hauled him down as he pounced on the goalkeeper’s mis-controlled back-pass.
Dyche said: “In the first half I could have played against us. There was no belief and endeavour.”