The Magpies brought down the curtain on a difficult calendar year with a hard-fought, but thoroughly deserved 0-0 Premier League draw with champions Liverpool in which his team not only battled resolutely, but at times threatened to snatch victory.
The performance went some of the way towards quelling fears that the season could unravel rapidly in the wake of a run of poor performances and results, prime among which was a 1-0 Carabao Cup quarter-final defeat at Championship Brentford which piled the pressure on the head coach.
Bruce said: “We were all disappointed with what happened a couple of weeks ago in a big cup-tie. We blew an unbelievably good opportunity, which has disappointed everybody, me included, so the one thing you have to do is respond, and there were signs against Manchester City.
“We’ve played arguably two of the best teams in Europe back-to-back in a matter of two or three days, so the way they’ve responded, I couldn’t have been any more pleased.”
The improvement against Liverpool could hardy have been more timely with Leicester due at St James’ Park on Sunday to complete a difficult run of holiday fixtures.
Bruce’s side currently sit in 14th place in the table, eight points clear of the relegation zone and seven behind Aston Villa in fifth, with survival the overriding priority but a top 10 finish a more progressive secondary objective.
Both are way below the aims the club has set itself in the recent past, hence the anger of sections of the fanbase who crave the days when Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson threatened to bring silverware back to Tyneside.
However, Bruce said: “If you’re in the bottom half of the Premier League, then you’re going to have ups and downs.
“I said when I walked through the door, our aim is can we try to nudge towards getting in the top half of the league? We were three places off last season; as we sit at the moment, we’re two or three places off it, so we’ve got to keep striving towards that.”
Bruce’s difficulties have been compounded by a Covid-19 outbreak which has robbed him of the services of skipper Jamaal Lascelles and star man Allan Saint-Maximin and left others playing, but battling through fatigue, and a creditable draw with Liverpool proved a welcome gift as he celebrated his 60th birthday on New Year’s Eve.
He said: “Since I left Newcastle in 1976, I’ve been involved in football for 45 years or whatever it is, so to be 60 and still in and around it, getting a draw against Liverpool, it can’t be bad.”
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