Steve Bruce delighted Newcastle fans are returning despite criticism

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Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce is eagerly anticipating his reunion with the Toon Army even if he does not know what sort of reception to expect.

The 60-year-old found himself a target for social media trolls as the wounded Magpies limped through a difficult winter with unrest from their absent fans mounting.

On Wednesday evening, 10,000 of them will be back inside St James’ Park to see their team face relegated Sheffield United with Bruce having steered the ship out of those stormy waters and to safety with an impressive run of form.

Asked if he was anxious about how he may be received, he said: “No, no, not at all. I’m delighted they’re back in. Whatever kind of reception I get, I’m delighted that the supporters are back in because I know how much it means.

“It’s been a bloody long time since we’ve played with our supporters. Come in, let’s go to the pub and have a few beers and come and support their team. Fantastic.”

Supporters last attended a game at St James’ on February 29 last year before Covid-19 restrictions came into force, and the intervening period has seen the collapse of a much-anticipated takeover off the pitch as well as the struggles on it prompted in part by a coronavirus outbreak.

Between mid-December and early April, Newcastle won just two of the 21 games they played in all competitions and lost 12, one of them a 1-0 defeat by the Blades on January 12, their first of the season in the Premier League at the 18th attempt.

Bruce said: “I certainly picked the wrong team, so I have to take full responsibility for it.

“But if you ever need the Premier League to show you what it is, Sheffield have been relegated, but they won at Goodison five days ago or whenever it was and they’ve also won at Old Trafford.

“That’s the beauty of the Premier League and how tough it is. That doesn’t happen in other leagues.”

The Magpies head into the return in confident mood having celebrated their safety with a rousing display in a 4-3 defeat by champions Manchester City, and targeting victory in their final two fixtures to reach 45 points, one more than they managed last season.

Bruce said: “If we can get to 45 points with the problems we have had this season, then we’ll accept it to a degree, but we all know that we still have aspirations to be better than that and that’s what I’ve got to try to put in place if I possibly can.”