Steve Bruce is set to cling to his job at Newcastle amid mounting fury over a rapidly decaying season.
The Magpies became the first side to lose a Premier League game to seemingly doomed Sheffield United on Tuesday evening when they went down 1-0 at Bramall Lane to stretch their own run without victory to eight games in all competitions.
Newcastle remain eight points clear of the relegation zone, although Fulham in 18th place have two games in hand, but they have collected only two of the last 18 on offer and scored only four goals in the process.
However, the PA news agency understands head coach Bruce is in no immediate danger in the short term, with owner Mike Ashley desperately trying to sell the club and in no mood to launch a search for a replacement in such volatile times.
That might change should the Magpies be dragged into yet another a relegation battle – and Ashley will be conscious he left it too late to act in both 2009 and 2016 with dire consequences – but as long as the 60-year-old keeps his head above water, he will be allowed to continue.
Ashley is currently engaged in an arbitration process with the Premier League after calling in the lawyers over the governing body’s handling of the failed largely Saudi-backed bid to buy the club last year.
A consortium comprising Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Reuben brothers withdrew its offer in July after waiting 17 weeks, ultimately in vain, for league approval.
It is understood both parties remain willing to complete a deal and despite several other parties having made enquiries, Staveley’s group is currently the only realistic prospective purchaser.
In a rare interview in August 2017, Ashley, who had bought Newcastle 10 years earlier, admitted he could not afford to compete with English football’s big spenders and has been trying to offload the business ever since.
In the meantime, he has been content for the Magpies to tread water in the top flight on a relatively modest budget, barring a £56million splurge on record signing Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin during the summer of 2019 and a £20m swoop for Callum Wilson in September last year.
That investment came only after Rafael Benitez had decided not to extend his stay as manager, partly in protest at his lack of control over recruitment, with the takeover process ongoing at that point.
Fan anger at a failure to retain the highly-respected Spaniard’s services was compounded by Bruce’s appointment, and the new man vowed to win over his critics with results on the pitch.
For many, that relationship has remained uneasy and it has deteriorated significantly in recent weeks with a team shorn of confidence apparently set up to play safety-first football failing on all fronts.
Bruce has been hampered in recent weeks by a coronavirus outbreak which has robbed him of key players and in particular his most creative talent, Saint-Maximin.
But a passive first-half display against the Blades developed into a backs-to-the-wall battle after Ryan Fraser’s senseless dismissal for two bookable offences, providing further damning evidence that change, one way or another, is urgently required.