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, live on Sky Sports Premier League, and that can only be good news for a club which has seen its season unravel alarmingly since the middle of December.
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Bruce said: "Arguably our most creative player, the one who's your player of the year, then of course you are going to miss him and we have missed him for the best part of a couple of months.
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"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 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 Newcastle 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."
After years as an understudy, Karl Darlow explains to Sky Sports about how he's stepped up and seized his chance as Newcastle No 1.
"If there's a better goalkeeper at the moment, I'm yet to see it." Karl Darlow's performances this season could not have drawn any higher praise from Newcastle boss Steve Bruce, but after a breakthrough Premier League season, the 30-year-old is not ready to rest on his laurels just yet
"It's brilliant," Darlow told Sky Sports ahead of Newcastle's trip to Aston Villa on Saturday Night Football. "I'm pleased to be back playing and doing a job that I'm here to do.
"The words Steve Bruce came out with the other week were very nice, and it's one thing to get that praise but another to carry it on."
Aston Villa vs Newcastle will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 7.30pm on Saturday; kick-off at 8pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Free highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.
- Aston Villa have won just one of their last 12 Premier League games against Newcastle (D6 L5), though they are unbeaten in four against the Magpies (W1 D3), winning 2-0 in this exact fixture last season.
- Newcastle have failed to score in their last three Premier League away games against Aston Villa (D2 L1) since winning 2-1 at Villa Park in September 2013.
- Aston Villa have scored at least three goals in three of their seven Premier League home games this season, as many as they had in their previous 62 at Villa Park before this term.
- Aston Villa are looking to keep three consecutive home clean sheets within the same Premier League campaign for the first time since December 2012 under Paul Lambert.
- Newcastle are winless in seven Premier League games (D2 L5), losing their last three in a row. The Magpies haven't lost four consecutive Premier League games since May 2018.
- Newcastle have lost their last six away games in all competitions - they last lost more consecutively away from home between December 2015 and April 2016 (10).
- In their first seven Premier League games this season, Newcastle had converted 56 per cent of their shots on target (10 goals from 18 shots on target). In their subsequent 11 fixtures, they've converted just 22 per cent of them (eight goals from 36 shots on target).
- Having lost just one of his first eight Premier League away games against Aston Villa between 2003 and 2011 (W4 D3), Newcastle manager Steve Bruce has lost each of his last three at Villa Park (twice with Hull, once with Newcastle).
- Newcastle striker Andy Carroll scored his first-ever senior career hat-trick against Aston Villa in his first appearance against the Villans back in August 2010, in a 6-0 victory for Newcastle. However, he has failed to score in any of his subsequent six league games against them.
- After netting six goals in his first seven Premier League appearances for Newcastle, Callum Wilson has scored just two in his subsequent nine for the Magpies.