Steve Bruce has backed Dwight Gayle to drag Newcastle out of their coronavirus crisis and into the hectic festive fixture schedule after the Magpies’ 2-1 Premier League win over West Brom.
Gayle made his first appearance of the season as a 69th-minute replacement for Jamal Lewis and repaid Bruce’s faith by heading a superb winner past Sam Johnstone eight minutes from time.
Miguel Almiron had required just 19 seconds to give the home side the lead, and despite Darnell Furlong’s 50th-minute equaliser, the hosts ensured a difficult fortnight in which the pandemic had swept through the club would end on a positive note.
With a number of players absent and others still struggling to shrug off the virus, Bruce believes the likes of Gayle, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, will have a crucial role to play.
Bruce said: “Dwight’s been unfortunate with his injuries but he knows what I think about him as a player – he’s a goalscorer.
“How good it was to see him work tirelessly to get here. At the back end of last season he was really on fire and he’s had an awful knee injury, but he’s got back.”
Gayle headed in a superb cross from fellow substitute Jacob Murphy after Bruce made the brave decision to sacrifice wing-backs Jamal Lewis and Emil Krafth to go in search of a victory which seemed set to elude them.
Despite Almiron’s stunning start, when he swept home after Joelinton knocked on a Matt Ritchie cross, the Magpies had struggled to dispatch opponents who were plainly still reeling from the previous week’s home hammering by Crystal Palace.
Instead, despite the growing pressure on Slaven Bilic, the Baggies responded in a way which may just save his job, with Darnell Furlong rocketing home a 50th-minute equaliser, and the visitors briefly looking better bets for the three points.
Bilic insisted afterwards it proved his side was “very much alive”, while Furlong said his team-mates were “devastated” at sliding to another defeat.
“We didn’t start well enough but then we showed what we were about in the second half and we came out fighting,” Furlong told West Brom’s official website.
“We can take positives out of the performance and the confidence is there, but we just need to cut those little errors out now.”
Bilic shrugged off questions about his future and instead chose to hail the impact of Charlie Austin, who has come back into the reckoning in recent weeks and made a significant impact off the bench.
“Charlie gave us bravery, physicality and fighting for every ball,” said Bilic. “I don’t think I have to justify the decision, because in the second half he made a lot of difference.”
Bruce will now prepare his Newcastle side for Wednesday’s visit to Leeds, hoping a new round of coronavirus tests will enable more to return, with Federico Fernandez, Javier Manquillo and Fabian Schar among the notable absentees on Saturday.
“We’re hoping that we get a couple of negative results and another couple of players (back),” added Bruce. “We’ve still got far too many (out) at this point, but let’s hope we’ve caught it and got rid of it.”
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