Bruce hoping injury list will ease after Wolves
Written by Dan King
Steve Bruce is still missing a handful of key players for Saturday's Premier League trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers, but hopes Newcastle United's injury list could look far healthier after this month's international break.
Last season's leading goalscorer Callum Wilson and skipper Jamaal Lascelles will both miss the match at Molineux, where the Magpies are searching for a first victory of the campaign, while the game will also come too soon for goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka, long-serving defender Paul Dummett and England international Jonjo Shelvey.
But at least some of them could be back in contention by the time United welcome Tottenham Hotspur to St. James' Park on Sunday, 17th October - by which time Bruce's side will be aiming to have got that all-important first win at Wolves.
"I still think it's a bit early for the two, three who are missing," admitted the head coach on Friday. "With the international break coming up, then we're hoping that three of them at least will be taking part in training, but it's still a bit too early for the weekend."
Joe Willock, however, has trained all week without any reaction to the toe injury which had initially ruled the summer signing out of last weekend's clash with Watford before the ex-Arsenal man declared himself fit on the eve of the game, and he will be part of the squad which travels to the Black Country on Friday afternoon.
"He's been okay," said Bruce. "It was a surprise to us all that he declared he wanted to play, he wanted to have a go and (was) desperate to play. He went and trained on the Friday - which surprised us all, I have to tell you - but he's going to train again today and he trained yesterday, so we hope he's okay."
Freddie Woodman, who started the season in goal for United, is also sidelined with a hip injury but Karl Darlow has played the last two games after recovering from Covid-19 and Dúbravka is now back in light training too, with the Slovakian shot-stopper set to step up his comeback in the coming days.
"We expect him to be training with us in the next week or so, so thankfully, that situation is a bit more healthy than it was a few weeks ago," explained Bruce. "So we're edging towards most of the players being fit and available, which is what every manager wants of course."
United had to settle for a second successive draw at Vicarage Road last time out - they were also held at home by Leeds two weeks ago - but Bruce was encouraged by his side's performance in both games, and he feels that the first win will come sooner rather than later if Newcastle can maintain that level of performance.
"We've played very well, and I thought we played very well for large parts at Old Trafford (against Manchester United)," he said. "After the initial 20 minutes against Leeds, I thought we played very well, and last week was arguably our best performance of the season.
"We should have won the game. We've had enough chances to win two games. However, unfortunately, we didn't take them, which is the hardest part of the game, so we've got to keep bashing away and believe in what we're doing, and hope that when the chances come tomorrow we can take them."
Saturday's opponents have also found that good displays haven't always been rewarded with points so far this term - their first under Bruno Lage, who replaced Nuno Espírito Santo after his four-year reign came to an end in the summer.
But, with frontman Raúl Jiménez now back in action after suffering a fractured skull ten months ago, Bruce feels that they're not too different a side from the one which finished seventh in successive seasons before they ended a somewhat disappointing 2020/21 campaign in 13th position, one place below United.
"They're a similar sort of formation (but) they're slightly different in their approach and of course, they've got Jiménez fit which makes a big, big difference," said Bruce.
"He's been missing for a year, and every club's going to miss their big players - and he's arguably their best player in terms of scoring a goal. He looks as if he's back to somewhere near his best, certainly in the stuff I've watched over the last couple of weeks, so we'll have to defend well against him."
Wolves, though, will be just as concerned about some of Newcastle's attacking players - particularly Allan Saint-Maximin, who has scored twice and claimed three assists this term and was nominated for the Premier League's EA Sports player of the month award for September earlier this week.
And Bruce said: "He's played very, very well, hasn't he? It didn't surprise me that he's been nominated.
"He's already played five 90 minutes this season, which he didn't do all of last season, so let's hope he stays well, let's hope he stays fit, because when he is, and when he's playing well, he's a fantastic talent - one where, I've always said, you pay your money to just go and watch him because of what he can do on a football pitch. He's so good to watch.
"Some of the stuff that he does, you don't coach - it's natural ability. (With) the great players, it's the final thing; the goals, the assists, and he's improved on that, in my opinion - and I'm sure he'll get better.
"He's still only very young, but I think the last pieces is what he has to improve on. And he's made big strides in that with his goals and his assists which he's already got us."