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Bruce could ring changes for Bournemouth

Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce has hinted that he may ring the changes for Wednesday evening’s Premier League clash at Bournemouth as the Magpies look to respond after their FA Cup run was halted at the weekend.

United were beaten 2-0 by Manchester City in their quarter-final clash at St. James’ Park on Sunday night, ending their hopes of making it to Wembley for a last-four showdown with Arsenal.

But with Bruce’s men having made a promising start to the restarted league campaign, with a convincing 3-0 win over Sheffield United followed by a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa, a place in the top half of the table is within reach.

The Newcastle boss, though, said that the rigours of the new schedule means he is likely to shuffle his pack for the long trip to the Vitality Stadium in midweek (6pm kick-off) – a game which will be his side’s fourth in just 11 days.

“I think it’s only right that I freshen us up,” he said.

“I don’t want to go down to Bournemouth, with them not having a game for a week, for the fourth game in 11 days.

“It’s a big call so I will be making some changes, and hopefully that pays off.”

One of the players who remains a doubt for United is winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who has been in fine form since the restart.

Bruce believes the Frenchman has benefitted from the recent enforced break, though admits he could be one of those in line for a rest against the Cherries – while former Bournemouth ringer Matt Ritchie, who missed the City clash through injury, remains “touch and go”.

“He’s coming to terms with what it’s like to play in the Premier League,” said Bruce of Saint-Maximin. “The lockdown’s done him a bit of good with the niggling hamstrings he’s had which is always a concern when you rely on your pace the way he does, with the power he’s got. I think we said when we walked through the door that he was going to get people off their seats – he’s been excellent.

“He was extremely tired yesterday, but let’s see how he is today in recovery because he has played the three games. (With) four games in 11 days, I’m going to use part of the squad, so let’s see how he is and how he trains this afternoon.”

On Ritchie, who helped Eddie Howe’s side to promotion from League One and the Championship during his time with the Cherries, Bruce added: “You know what Matt’s like. He was desperate to play, but he was nowhere near it on Friday so we’ll see how he is.

“With a soft tissue injury you can’t really take a risk because if he’s not right then you could risk being out for the rest of the season. But for obvious reasons, he’ll be desperate to play.”

Bournemouth currently lie 18th in the Premier League table, and are embroiled in a relegation battle as they bid to prolong their five-year stay in the top flight.

“He’s done a remarkable job, Eddie, and I think this year they’ve been blighted with big injuries,” said Bruce. “When that happens to you, you think everything is against you because you miss four or five of your big players for a long, long period and it becomes difficult.

“They’ve certainly had a difficult period but make no mistake – they’ll be fighting for their lives, so we know what to expect. But we’ve had a decent run of form in the league of late, so let’s hope that continues.”

And the United boss paid tribute to the work behind the scenes which has enabled football to return, even though he admits the experience of playing in empty stadiums is “just not the same”.

“Without it, it’s just not the same. It is second best, but at least we’re up and running,” he added. “A lot of people behind the scenes of every club, from doctors, health and safety and HR, it’s been quite an unbelievable task to get us this far.

“I think it’s right that we’re playing, but it’s certainly not the same as playing in front of a full house, that’s for sure.”

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