The scale of the task facing new head coach Steve Bruce was brutally laid bare as Newcastle United were thrashed 4-0 by Premier League rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in China on Wednesday.
Former Manchester United defender Bruce, whose appointment was confirmed just hours before kick-off, will jet over to take charge of Newcastle’s next friendly, in Shanghai on Saturday.
It was only a low-key exhibition match, but the heavy defeat to Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves in Nanjing was more evidence that Newcastle are likely to be battling relegation this season.
Newcastle have risked stoking the anger of their frustrated fans by hiring former Sunderland boss Bruce, who has sealed a three-year contract to succeed the hugely popular Rafael Benitez.
There were even isolated chants against hated club owner Mike Ashley during the Wolves loss.
Federico Fernandez, the Newcastle defender, called on fans angry with Bruce’s arrival to get behind the new man.
“We are looking forward to working with him, he is a man of great experience, we are thinking positive,” said the Argentine.
“I understand the fans’ situation,” he said, addressing supporters’ negative reaction to the 58-year-old Bruce, a lifelong Newcastle fan.
“For us, we want to work, we want to do better as a team… to show the fans and everyone that we can compete.”
In a statement, Bruce, who resigned from Championship side Sheffield Wednesday to join Newcastle, called it “a very special moment for me and my family”.
“This is my boyhood club and it was my dad’s club.”
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Bruce might be a local boy, but his two-year spell as coach of Newcastle’s fierce rivals Sunderland and a mediocre record as a Premier League manager are major black marks for an already infuriated fan base.
Bruce, who has won four promotions from the second tier of English football, has suffered relegation from the Premier League twice.
His highest finish was 10th with Birmingham in 2003-04 and Sunderland in 2010-11.
Bruce has his work cut out at Newcastle, who have lost their leading forwards from last season — Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez — and are the only Premier League club yet to make a summer signing.
The transfer window closes in less than a month, adding to the pressure on Bruce and Ashley as they try to win over disillusioned fans.
— Vanguard Newspapers (@vanguardngrnews) July 17, 2019
There have been calls for a boycott of St James’ Park until Ashley sells the crisis club.
If Bruce was watching on television, he would have been exasperated by what he saw from his side in China, who were under the interim stewardship of academy coach Ben Dawson.
Diogo Jota struck twice in the first half for Chinese-owned Wolves as demoralised Newcastle wilted alarmingly in the Nanjing heat.
Champions Manchester City were to play West Ham United in the next match in the Premier League Asia Trophy.