Steve Bruce is pinning his hopes of sparking a Newcastle revival on the impending return of Allan Saint-Maximin following his lengthy coronavirus lay-off.
The 23-year-old Frenchman has been out of action for more than two months following the outbreak of Covid-19 which prompted the closure of the club’s training headquarters in November, and his absence has robbed head coach Bruce of one of his brightest sparks during a nine-game winless run.
However, Saint-Maximin has trained this week and has been included in the squad for Saturday evening’s Premier League trip to Aston Villa, and that can only be good news for a club which has seen its season unravel alarmingly since the middle of December.
Bruce said: “Arguably our most creative player, the one who’s your player of the year, then of course you’re going to miss him and we have missed him for the best part of a couple of months.
“When he was in and around the team, we looked a threat, we could play that little bit deeper and play teams on the counter-attack.
“If you are a mainly counter-attacking team, then you have to have pace on the turnover and without Allan, then we haven’t got that blistering pace that he possesses, so we’re delighted to see him back.
“He will certainly make us a little bit more entertaining, he will certainly help us win a few games, so it is good to see him in and around it again.”
With the likes of defenders Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar, who have been playing in recent weeks, still coping with the after-effects of the virus, Saint-Maximin’s condition has been closely monitored.
Bruce said: “It’s fair to say his fitness levels are very, very good, which is good news. Of course we’ve got to get the balance right and I wouldn’t expect him to be starting on Saturday. But he’ll be in and among the squad and there if he’s needed.”
Saint-Maximin last played in a 2-0 home defeat by Chelsea on November 21 and although the Magpies won the two games immediately after, they have not tasted victory since.
Bruce said: “It’s been difficult – let’s not beat about the bush – but then again, we’re not alone.
“If Liverpool, who are the champions of the country, can’t score for six hours, then it shows you how hard this league is and what league we’re playing in, so we’re not alone.”