'Time is right' for Wilson start, says Bruce
Newcastle United will be without on-loan midfielder Joe Willock when they face his parent club Arsenal this weekend – but head coach Steve Bruce says "the time is right" to hand Callum Wilson his first start in almost three months.
Willock, who has netted after coming off the bench in three of the Magpies’ last four Premier League games, is unavailable for the clash at St. James’ Park under the terms of his loan agreement.
But with the 21-year-old the only fresh absentee for the clash with the Gunners on Sunday (2pm kick-off), and with his team seeking to extend their unbeaten run to five games, Bruce says he is considering fielding leading goalscorer Wilson from the start after the forward had to make do with substitute appearances since his return from a hamstring problem earlier this month.
"I think the time is right," said Bruce.
"We’ve been patient with him, but I felt last week against Liverpool, in the last five minutes when he burst through, it was Callum being free from it – I always think when you've got a hamstring and you rely so much on your pace like he does, then you're always a bit reluctant to get to full speed.
"But certainly last week against Liverpool I saw him up to top speed, which is good for everybody. Let's hope he is 100 per cent, which we think he is."
Willock will be absent from the United side, though, after a sensational month in which he netted three times after coming off the bench.
It was the on-loan Gunner who pounced to snatch the 95th-minute equaliser at Liverpool last weekend, after similar efforts against Spurs and West Ham.
Bruce said he was delighted with the impact made by the January arrival, and hinted that he would be keen to extend the youngster’s stay at St. James’ Park.
"We're delighted for the kid. It's quite unbelievable to score the equaliser against Tottenham, to go to Anfield and do it again, and the week before (against West Ham), it's quite remarkable," he said.
"I'm pleased for Joe. He's got the football world talking about him, which was key for him, to come here and show off what he’s got.
"We'd love to keep him – I've said that. We'd love to keep him, but that's a conversation that we have to (have) and respect Arsenal too. He's 21 years old, so he ticks all the boxes as far as I'm concerned."
Newcastle have already faced Mikel Arteta’s men twice this term, having suffered defeats to the Gunners in both their away league fixture and when the sides met in the FA Cup third round.
But with their recent revival having lifted spirits and safety still to be secured, head coach Bruce does not want his side to let up in their pursuit of making sure of their Premier League place for next season.
"We can’t take anything for granted, but certainly we're in a better position than we were a month ago," he said.
"When you looked at the fixtures that we had, and what we've still got coming up, we realised there were some difficult games.
"We’re pleased. Over the last couple of months, if you take away the Brighton result, we've only lost one of our last eight games so just at the right time we’ve found a bit of resilience.
"And more importantly – and I’ve said it week-in and week-out – we've had our big players in key areas fit. That's coincided with, obviously, the upturn in results."