Steve Bruce tried to find some positives as he once more faced questions about his future as Newcastle manager following another lacklustre defeat against Aston Villa.
Fans protested outside St James’ Park demanding Bruce be sacked as his side slipped to a 2-0 loss on Saturday night.
It was not quite the meek surrender at Sheffield United recently but in a continuation of recent performances, Newcastle offered little as an attacking force – lacking imagination and intent in the final third of the pitch.
The Magpies have scored only one goal in the last eight matches and have lost six of their last eight Premier League games, including the last four in a row.
Told about the protests back in Newcastle, Bruce could only offer “I’m disappointed to hear that” as a reply, before going on to attempt to defend his team’s recent form.
“We’ve been on a really difficult run, there’s no doubting that. But we are not alone in that, it’s just our turn.
“When you’re in the bottom half of the Premier League, you are always looking over your shoulder and what you need to erase it all is to win a couple of games.
— Premier League (@premierleague) January 23, 2021
“That little bit of confidence comes with a win and the sooner we get it the better.
“I know this group of players are capable, we’ve done it before. We’ve had a particularly tough time in terms of illness and injuries and let’s hope we can stay fit and healthy because if we can do that then I’m convinced we will be OK.”
Allan Saint-Maximin made his return at Villa Park following an eight-week lay-off due to coronavirus.
Bruce said: “That encourages me. It encouraged me was to see Ryan (Fraser) and Allan on the pitch at the same time. I think it’s the first time this season that has happened. That will certainly help us going forward.”
Ollie Watkins ended his goal drought by opening the scoring and setting Villa on the way to victory.
The club-record signing scored for the first time in 10 matches before Bertrand Traore doubled the lead before half-time with his fourth goal in six games.
𝗡𝗜𝗡𝗘 goals and 𝗧𝗪𝗢 assists so far this season for Ollie Watkins! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/d1Df9qSahl
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) January 23, 2021
Watkins had netted six times in his first seven Premier League matches before a frustrating period without a goal but Villa boss Dean Smith never had any doubts the striker would rediscover his scoring touch.
“The way Ollie works, in training and in games, he endears himself to the rest of the team,” said Smith.
“With the quality he has got, he is always going to score goals. He has just been through a patch where he has hit the crossbar, hit the post and the goalkeeper has made really good saves.
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) January 23, 2021
“But we have not doubted his quality and his performances. The goal was always going to come.”
Jack Grealish was substituted late on in the win and Smith, who watched from the stands as he served a one-match touchline ban, revealed the captain had been nursing a tight hamstring during the week.
The Villa boss added: “Jack didn’t do an awful lot in training. He wasn’t happy I brought him off with five minutes to go but it was game over. He was on four yellows as well and there is always the risk of him getting kicked.”