For all the concerns over Newcastle United’s current position, and the backlash that followed the 0-0 draw with Norwich City, it’s worth taking a step back from the noise to see exactly where the Magpies are right now.

The comparison between Steve Bruce and Rafa Benitez at the same 25-game stage has irked some observers, despite the fact the Geordie boss is seven points better off so far.

Bruce has been criticised for his style of play - too negative and not productive enough in some people’s eyes - with the Norwich stalemate reawakening some of his doubters.

At the start of the season it was Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher who warned that it was unfair that Bruce should be continually compared to Champions League winner Benitez.

Even then Carragher may not have foreseen that Bruce would be in better shape points-wise with 13 games to go.

He argued that Newcastle fans should compare Bruce with Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew or Steve McClaren.

Pardew’s fifth-placed finish remains the modern benchmark, but the Londoner struggled too and was in worse shape than Bruce in some of his seasons.

Steve Bruce and (inset) the Premier League table as of February 4, 2020
Steve Bruce and (inset) the Premier League table as of February 4, 2020

As it happens, United are currently in the best shape in terms of points since 2015.

Back then it took 23 games to reach 30 points under caretaker boss John Carver before the team suffered a loss of form.

In 2015/16 the team took 35 matches to reach the same 30-point tally after McClaren had been sacked and Benitez couldn’t save them from the drop.

This season United had reached 30 points after 24 games, better than in 2017/18 (30 games) and 2018/19 (28 games).

For the record, and in the last decade, they are in better shape than 2007/08 (31 games to reach 30 points) and 2008/09 (32 games to hit 30 points on the way down to the Championship).

A near miss in 2012/13 under a Pardew, when survival was secured in the penultimate game, saw United hit 30 points after 27 games.

It was far from pretty against Norwich as Newcastle nudged on to 31 points, but they at least know they are within swinging distance of Premier League safety.

Bruce has tried to be open and honest about the current situation and says he “accepted” some criticism.

Yet the way he has set up is not too different to last season when Rafa was accused of parking the bus.

Bruce feels it would be too risky, in his first season, to tear up the five-man defensive rearguard but insists it will be changed “eventually”.

The squad have become accustomed to playing that way and didn’t warm to a back four earlier this term.

Maybe we’ll see Bruce become more offensive once the team hit safety, or maybe it will be next season after a recruitment drive in the summer.

But either way the squad feel they have to continue to hit back at critics.

Bruce said it was “insulting” to claim that his players had luckily stumbled their way to 31 points and he’s probably right.

They’ve done it by showing resilience and hanging in for points when they were up against it.

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United have beaten Spurs, Man United, Chelsea and drawn with Man City.

They’ve held big-spending Wolves twice and beaten this season’s surprise package Sheffield United in their own backyard.

At times it’s been abject and there’s no escaping that fact, but things have been a lot worse.

History books - not opinion columns - show that quite clearly.

Bruce and his squad have given themselves nothing more than a platform to build on.

However, they have shown in many games this season they are capable and perhaps deserve the benefit of the doubt.