Steve Bruce is hoping Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron can fire Newcastle out of Premier League trouble as the fight for survival comes to a head.
Wilson’s return to fitness after a seven-game absence with a torn hamstring a week after Saint-Maximin appeared as a substitute – following his own three-match lay-off – means head coach Bruce may have a rare chance to field his first-choice frontline at Burnley on Sunday.
Bruce said: “Look, arguably they’re our best players, so when you’re without your best players, then of course…
“We all understand injuries, especially when Allan’s been out the best part of four months of a six, seven-month season and when he’s not there, when you see him come on to the pitch, then you know we’re a different proposition, so in that respect, we’ve been very, very unfortunate.
“We’re not alone, but I think I’ve played Almiron and Callum once together – they started against Southampton and we were 3-1 up at half-time and unfortunately, they picked up injuries.
“I don’t think I’ve been able to play them all season together, which has been a frustration, of course.”
If re-uniting that triumvirate may go a long way towards determining the Magpies’ fate – they headed into the weekend just three points clear of the drop zone – reproducing the kind of fight they did to draw 2-2 with Tottenham last weekend will be equally important.
Key to that performance was the return of Matt Ritchie – the wing-back was selected for the first time since his off-field spat with Bruce – who brought his fighting spirit to the fore just when it was required.
Bruce said: “He is one of those characters when you are up against it, he gives everything that he has got for the cause. He has played like that and had a successful career by doing that.
“I was delighted for him. One of the reasons we picked that side last week was to get the balance right and to get him in the team, so yes, he brought something to us.
“He added an edge to us. He played very, very well. The challenge now is to repeat it, do it again over the next six or seven weeks.
“We talk about this row – it is nothing. It was over-hyped, but I am glad he produced the kind of performance we know he is capable of.”