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'We're blessed' - Bruce hails Magpies' defensive depth

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Steve Bruce has lauded Newcastle United’s strength in depth in central defence with Florian Lejeune in line to return to action against Aston Villa on Monday night.

Each of the Magpies’ other out and out centre halves – Ciaran Clark, Federico Fernández, Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schär – have figured a minimum of five times in the Premier League, and all have chipped in with at least one goal. In addition, Paul Dummett has come back into the fray of late after starting four straight games on the bench.

But, with Lascelles out until the New Year and Clark a doubt for Monday’s clash after picking up a knock while away with the Republic of Ireland, Lejeune’s return to the mix has come at a handy time for Bruce. Schär, too, could feature at Villa Park after overcoming a knee injury.

Lejeune has played twice for United’s Under-23s on his road back to recovery, and the Magpies’ head coach heaped praise on the Frenchman for his attitude throughout.

“The big one is obviously Flo, because he’s been out for so long,” Bruce said. “But he’s done everything – he’s played, he’s got minutes under his belt on the training ground and he’s ready to go. The same goes for Schär; as long as they come through the next two or three days unscathed then they’ll both come into contention, and that can only be a good thing.

“There comes a point where you can’t keep training and training and training; you have to be thrown into the deep end, if that’s the right word. But (Lejeune) is a wonderful pro. He’s the first in, the last to go and he’s done everything he possibly can. He feels he’s ready, and I think that’s the most important thing – he knows his knee better than anybody. He’s done all his minutes and he’s ready to go.

“If there’s anywhere on the pitch we’re blessed, (it’s in central defence); we’ve got six of them who are very, very decent at what they do. Touch wood, whatever combination we have put together have done OK. The competition there is very, very healthy and good, which is a good thing. We’re losing one – possibly two – but we’re fortunate because we can bring another two in, so it’s not a bad situation.”

Monday’s clash will represent a first return to Villa Park for Bruce since his departure from the club last October.

Bruce led the Villains to the Championship play-off final at the end of his first full season in charge, though they were beaten narrowly by Fulham at Wembley. He left after a dramatic 3-3 draw with Preston left Villa 12th in the table.

“(I feel) like I always do when I go back to an old club,” he said ahead of the trip. “I had the privilege to manage it, it was a great club, but you’re always disappointed the way it ends – I thought I would have demanded a bit more time, but that wasn’t the case after a difficult period where the club, financially, was in a difficult place. We nearly got there – we lost in the play-off final – but overall I can look back and say I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a big club with a big tradition and a big history. But I want to go back and beat them – it’s as simple as that.

“The team that got up was the team that we practically put together. I was delighted for the players that I brought to the club. As I said, we nearly got there the year before, and Dean (Smith) took them that little extra (distance). And then of course the new owners came in, and it was a different ball game. I think they spent more than anybody this summer. Fair play to the new owners that walked through the door – without them, I think Aston Villa would be in a real, real dark place. It’s been an interesting and unbelievable 12 months.”

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