Signings provided welcome boost ahead of season opener, says Bruce
Newcastle United head coach Steve Bruce feels the signings of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis have come at “just at the right time” as the Magpies get set to kick off their campaign at West Ham on Saturday night (8pm kick-off).
The trio all checked in at St. James’ Park this week as United completed their preparations for the start of the 2020/21 season, which sees them head to the London Stadium this weekend.
And, following the earlier arrivals of Mark Gillespie and Jeff Hendrick, Bruce believes his side are entering the new term with something of a spring in their step after what has been a positive week for him and his squad despite the challenges of a shorter close season.
“It was vitally important. In the past you’d have liked to have them done before you come in for pre-season, but this year there’s been no real pre-season as such,” he explained. “In the past, we had six weeks off and six weeks preparation, and in those six weeks you’d try to bring your players in.
“But I’m delighted with what we’ve done, just at the right time. We’ve managed to bring four or five in, and we’ve got one or two signed up as well and another couple are in discussions with Lee (Charnley) at the moment so we’re progressing.
“Hopefully we can get it done and dusted before that scramble which always comes in about a month’s time.”
All three of this week’s signings will hope to be in the squad for Saturday’s curtain-raiser in the capital, along with goalkeeper Gillespie and Republic of Ireland schemer Hendrick.
And Bruce feels the charges at his disposal now represent an improvement on the situation he found himself in just over a year ago as he prepared to embark on his first season in the hot seat.
“If I look at the squad of players, I think we’re stronger today than we were 12 months ago and that’s the thing, for me – to gradually improve us,” he said.
“We did OK last year under difficult circumstances, but we can’t just settle and be happy with mid-table. Can we progress? Can we stay injury free? And can we try and enjoy the season that lies ahead of us?”
The United boss has a largely fit squad to select from against the Hammers, with only Matt Ritchie regarded as a doubt due to a calf problem, while Fabian Schär, Matty Longstaff and Martin Dúbravka the only definite absentees.
Midfielder Hayden, who has steadily grown in influence over the past few campaigns, has signed a six-year deal, while goalkeeper Darlow – who is likely to start on Saturday in the absence of the injured Dúbravka – has been handed a five-year extension.
“Especially with Isaac, it’s been a sort of on-off since I’ve been at the club. But all the time we wanted him to commit his future to the club, which he’s done,” said Bruce.
“(With) Karl Darlow, in particular, the spotlight’s going to be on him a little bit now because of the injury to Martin, but every day we’ve seen him work and we’re delighted to tie them both up.”
The Magpies have a decent record at the London Stadium, having won on two of their previous three visits to the Hammers’ ground, including last season’s 3-2 victory.
Goals from Federico Fernández, Ciaran Clark and Jonjo Shelvey sealed those three points last term, but Bruce reckons it won’t be a straightforward encounter as both sides look to make the perfect start.
“Whenever you play against a David Moyes team, you know what to expect. He’s a top class manager who demands of his players what he’s all about, which is hard work and a bit of resilience as well,” he said.
“We know what to expect from West Ham – they’ll be a difficult nut to crack. We played very well down there last year. Will that count for anything? I hope so. But let’s look forward to the game and get ready for it.”