Bruce says 13th place would be an ‘acceptable’ finish for Newcastle

Steve Bruce says his Newcastle side have Crystal Palace in their sights as they look for an “acceptable” 13th place finish in the Premier League.

The Magpies head into Sunday’s home clash with Arsenal having significantly eased their relegation fears with two wins and two draws in their last four games.

That has helped them regain some of the ground they lost during a confidence-sapping 19-match run which yielded just two victories. Beset by injuries and with COVID-19 severely limiting the under-pressure head coach’s options, they were thrust into the thick of a survival battle.

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But with confidence restored, Bruce is looking to equal, if not better, the 44 points and 13th place his side managed at the end of the last campaign – a position currently occupied by Roy Hodgson’s side.

Asked what hitting his target would mean, Bruce replied: “Look, it’s not a success, but with the problems we’ve had…

“We’ve been in the bottom half of the division now for a number of years, that’s where we are at this particular moment. If we can match last year, where we got to, then I think we would all accept that would be, considering the problems we’ve had, acceptable.

“Can we finish above where we did last year? I doubt it, but considering the problems we’ve had this year, then I would be delighted if we could get there.”

The only blemish in the last eight fixtures was a 3-0 defeat at Brighton on March 20 in which Newcastle turned in an abject display. Looking back, Bruce pinpoints the “horror show” as something of a watershed.

Bruce said: “Certainly when you throw in the horror show at Brighton, then you have to have a response and all of them have responded in a positive way to say, ‘Look, we weren’t good enough on the night and we’ve got to be better than that if we’re going to stay in this division’.”

The latest point was hard-earned as a late strike from substitute Joe Willock – his third goal from the bench in as many appearances – denied reigning champions Liverpool victory at Anfield last Saturday.

It is not the first time the Magpies have shown a gritty resilience this season. Indeed, 13 of their 36 league goals have come inside the final 10 minutes of games, nine of them in or after the 85th minute.

Bruce said: “It’s quite remarkable that we have the ability to hang on in there, but it gives everybody a lift to get a result against a big, big team.”

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