Chris Wilder isn’t going to ‘get into a battle with Newcastle United fans’ over this controversial topic

Chris Wilder and Steve Bruce come up against each other in the Championship tonight as Middlesbrough host West Bromwich Albion.

Middlesbrough boss Chris Wilder has defended the job Steve Bruce did at Newcastle United in “difficult” circumstances.

Bruce arrived as the club’s head coach in July 2019 - and Wilder insists the 61-year-old was at a disadvantage from day one.

Wilder, Sheffield United manager at the time, believes supporters refused to accept Bruce because of him being appointed by unpopular former owner Mike Ashley.

During his two full seasons in charge, Bruce guided Newcastle to Premier League safety, recording 13th and 12th placed finishes.

However, following eight games without a win at the start of this season, adding to his two wins in 23 matches run in the last, Bruce was dismissed in October.

His sacking came just one game into the new Saudi Arabian-led ownership regime after fans voiced their discontent during the 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

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Now back in management with West Brom, where he still looking for his first victory after three matches, Wilder has leaped to his counterpart’s defence.

Wilder cited Allan Saint-Maximin, Eddie Howe and his luxury of working under new owners in his argument.

‘Different time and a different feel to the club’

Speaking ahead of the pair’s meeting at the Riverside Stadium tonight, Wilder said: “Listen, I’m not going to get into a battle with Newcastle fans.

“They’re passionate about their football club, as all fans in the North East are, and as all fans where I come from are as well.

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“I’m not being controversial here. Eddie Howe has gone in and will do a fantastic job. He’s got them going and got them winning.

“But the supporters are right behind him and they were never behind Steve. He couldn’t ever turn that down, but it was a different time and a different feel to the club.

“You ask any of the players there that played under Steve. (Allan) Saint-Maximin loved Steve. We all saw the quotes as he left about how he was as a man and a manager.

“You ask any player how easier it is to play at St James’ Park now than it was then?

“That’s what we’re all trying to create. That environment in a home game that allows the players to express themselves to give themselves the best possible opportunity. When the ball comes to them they’re not being booed or heckled. There’s no criticism.

“A lot’s happened, and I don’t want to get caught up too much in that because Newcastle fans will know their club better than I do, but from a player’s point of view and a manager’s point of view, that can be quite a difficult place to play football.

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“It was always going to be difficult for Steve because he was appointed by someone who the supporters just weren’t having.”

The Baggies are 11th in the Championship, four points outside the play-off places.