Steve Bruce will attempt to guide Newcastle to a first cup semi-final in 15 years insisting he never expected to be able to wave a magic wand over the club.
Bruce’s appointment as Rafael Benitez’s successor did not meet with universal approval and he has been battling to win over his critics ever since, a process which has not been helped in the last week by underwhelming performances against promoted duo Leeds and Fulham which have yielded just a single Premier League point.
However, the 59-year-old will send his team out at Sky Bet Championship Brentford on Tuesday evening still hoping to turn the tide having accepted the job despite warnings from predecessors Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish.
Bruce said: “I always expected it to be tough. Why wouldn’t it be when I have people like Graeme Souness and Kenny (Dalglish) and people like that ringing me to tell me how tough it is?
“Do I just think I’m going to come in here and wave a magic wand and say, ‘I’m going to put my sprinkle of stardust on it’?
“I always knew it was going to be tough. That’s what it is, it’s a tough gig, so if I can take the club to a semi-final…
“But then you want to get to the final. It’s no good getting to a semi-final. We’ve given ourselves a chance. The one thing we are going to have to do, though, is play better than we have done in the last week, and that’s the biggest concern.”
The Magpies have not reached the last four of a knock-out competition since they were beaten 4-1 by Manchester United in Cardiff in the 2005 FA Cup, and their hopes of ending that record are being hampered by the lingering after-effects of the Covid-19 outbreak which closed the club’s training ground earlier this month.
Defender Federico Fernandez had returned to the team after recovering for the virus, but only made it to half-time against Fulham as a result of fatigue, while a series of unnamed players remain unavailable with Javi Manquillo, Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Allan Saint-Maximin among those who have not been involved in recent games.
Bruce said: “Yes, we want to win a cup tie and we want to win in the Premier League, but the players’ welfare must come first and we’ve got one or two really, really poorly – and it could be with them for weeks, months.”