Steve Bruce has given a frank account of the disappointing performance at Villa Park on Monday night, where his former club Aston Villa ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against his Newcastle United side.
Two Conor Hourihane set-pieces were the Magpies’ undoing, with their front three of Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin once again failing to score.
With Manchester City up next and a flurry of difficult festive fixtures to come, Bruce is under no illusions of the challenges his team will face over the rest of the Premier League season.
Speaking to the Chronicle, the Newcastle Head Coach refused to blame the international break for the team’s sluggish first half, despite failing to carry the momentum of back-to-back wins into the game against Villa:
“It can work both ways for you. It was a long wait but there are no excuses.
“In the first half, in particular, we didn’t do enough. We have to be honest enough to admit that.”
The Magpies sorely missed influential captain Jamaal Lascelles in defence, as their backline struggled to cope with the set-piece quality of Hourihane.
Bruce said: “Last week the defenders were excellent, but you are always going to miss your best players.”
Luckily for Bruce, Fabian Schär is close to returning to match fitness and long-term absentee Florian Lejeune is nearing another miraculous return after a second ACL injury in as many years.
They will likely be important players over the Christmas period, especially in Lascelles' absence.
“We huffed and puffed”
Newcastle's front three again failed to get on the score sheet, with Almiron and Saint-Maximin still waiting for their first goal for the club, and Joelinton having now gone ten games without scoring.
Bruce is refusing to blame his ailing strike force, however, and hopes that they can soon start to overcome their waning confidence and turn effort into goals.
"They are going to have to keep working away at it,” said Bruce.
"The only thing we need to do is hope that one comes off their backside and they get moving.
"That's what happens with a forward player.
"We huffed and puffed but never looked like scoring."
With Andy Carroll and Dwight Gayle both fit and waiting in the wings, there may soon come a time where Bruce decides to take one of his failing forwards out of the firing line and try a different option.
Although the pair will have to be managed carefully due to their respective recent injury problems.
"Plenty to play for"
After some positive results, the loss at Villa has given the Magpies a bit of a reality check as games elsewhere over the weekend have left them just five points above the bottom of the Premier League.
After their next match against title-chasing Man City, they could be back in the thick of a relegation battle.
Still, Bruce is upbeat about the team’s prospects, insisting there is a lot of football left to be played.
"We are a third of the way through, there’s plenty to play for,” he said.
"This time last year there were two adrift, Fulham and Huddersfield, there isn’t at the minute with the weekend results.
"It’s all to play for, everyone is trying to make a fist of it and all to play for."