Daily Express

Steve’s sad tale of cabbages and flings

BRUCE PREPARED FOR VILLA PARK RETURN

- By Ian Murtagh

STEVE BRUCE hopes he is not a target for Villa Park’s vegetable-flinger when he takes Newcastle to his former club tonight.

The Newcastle manager, bidding for a third win on the spin, endured one of the most humiliatin­g moments of his career 14 months ago when an angry fan hurled a cabbage at him before Aston Villa blew a twogoal lead against Preston. Bruce was sacked within 24 hours, physically drained and mentally scarred after what he believes was his toughest assignment in football. Now that he is starting to win over his fellow Geordies, Bruce, 58, can look back on that October night last year with a sense of humour – though he was not laughing at the time. Asked if he will get abuse this evening, he grinned: “From which end?” Recalling the cabbage incident, he said: “I thought it was a ball to begin with, a big thing. How he got it into the stadium, I don’t know! “My reaction was, ‘What the f**k is that?’. It didn’t miss me by much, falling at my feet. I’ve had coins thrown at me… but a cabbage!

“It summed up that day. We were two-up against Preston and cruising, but then James Chester got sent off. It was one of the most unsavoury times of my career but I went the next day so didn’t have time to get angry.” Looking back on his spell at Villa, Bruce still feels a sense of injustice at his sacking. He added: “I got criticised but for that 18 months, only Manchester City scored more goals than us.

“It’s a great club with great support and a great history but it was in a mess. Arguably my most difficult job in football, even more difficult than this.

“Those weeks after losing the play-off final [to Fulham in 2018] were unrivalled. We were aware we couldn’t bring anyone in but financiall­y we didn’t realise the enormity of it until the chief executive and then Steve Round got the sack. We didn’t know if we were going to get paid in May and June. It was close to the wall.

“Jack Grealish nearly went to Spurs but then the new owners came in and everything changed very, very quickly. If they hadn’t, I would have feared for a great club because it was practicall­y bust.” Bruce likes to think that more than a year after his acrimoniou­s exit, Villa fans now see him in better light.

“When I took over, it was a mess. They hadn’t won away for something like 20 months and the players all had the pet lip because they had lost half their money. “Morale was really low. After two days, I remember sitting down and going, ‘If we’re not careful, never mind promotion, we’ll be lucky to stay up’.

“There’s a perception of the job I did, but we nearly got there only to lose in the play-off final.”

ASTON VILLA (probable): Heaton; Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor; Nakamba, McGinn, Grealish; El Ghazi, Wesley, Trezeguet.

NEWCASTLE (probable): Dubravka; Schar, Fernandez, Lejeune; Yedlin, Hayden, Shelvey, Willems; Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.

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A fan threw a cabbage at Bruce during what became his last match as Villa boss
VEGGIE PATCH A fan threw a cabbage at Bruce during what became his last match as Villa boss
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