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Steve Bruce: 'Newcastle need to be the best of the rest'

The Magpies go into the weekend sitting just three points clear of the relegation zone.

Steve Bruce has challenged relegation-haunted Newcastle to be the best of the rest as they attempt to drag themselves away from Premier League trouble.

The Magpies host improving Wolves at St James’ Park on Saturday evening desperate to bounce back from successive away defeats at Chelsea and Manchester United with 18th-placed Fulham having taken the opportunity to close the gap on them to just three points.

Asked if he would take fourth bottom now, head coach Bruce replied: “Well, whatever we do, we’ve got to stay in the Premier League.

“I’d like to finish a bit higher than that, but for me there are seven teams in it and there has probably been that from the start.

“There are six or seven teams that usually compete at the bottom end and last year we finished top of that table, so our aim is can we do that again?

“That’s what I’m trying to aim for and trying to be a little bit realistic. But of course, you’re always looking over your shoulder.

“But we’re not alone, I must stress this. It just seems as though Newcastle are the only one in it – we are not alone. There are six or seven teams all in and around us who are still nervously looking over their shoulders.”

Wins over Everton and Sheffield United either side of a draw at Burnley has propelled Fulham firmly back into the race for survival to leave Newcastle, Brighton, Burnley and Southampton in particular looking anxiously over their shoulders.

Asked if the season is reaching its critical point with 13 games remaining, Bruce said: “Well, it’s certainly coming to the tickly part, that’s for sure.

“I always say when the daffodils are up, that’s a sign that the real crux part of the season is upon us and if you’re at the bottom end where we are, unfortunately…

“There are six or seven. Can we finish above the six or seven? That’s the aim and I’m quietly confident we can do that.”

Bruce continues to face concerted criticism from fans – a banner depicting owner Mike Ashley holding two joker playing cards featuring the former Manchester United defender’s head and the message “Stop gambling with our club” appeared at St James’ this week – over his team selection and tactics, although he remains defiant.

He said: “Did you see Pep Guardiola asked about tactics the other night? His reply to it was, ‘We’re blessed with a lot of money’, and how fitting it was because you can talk about tactics as much as you like, it’s all about players.”

Meanwhile, Bruce has hit back after finding himself in the firing line for smiling as he spoke to opposite number Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the final whistle at Old Trafford.

He said: “Listen, I’ve known Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for 20 years. Now, if I’m caught smiling with him – he was complimenting us on how well we played, so if that’s a bad thing that I’ve smiled with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, then unfortunately OK, let it be.”

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