Steve Bruce has warned Newcastle not to be caught by a sucker punch as they attempt to end a difficult season with a fifth victory inside their final eight Premier League games.
A dismal run which saw the Magpies win only twice in 19 outings plunged them into the thick of the fight for top-flight survival. However, a return of 13 points from the last 21 they have contested sends them to relegated Fulham for what at one stage looked likely to be a relegation showdown in some comfort.
Indeed, a second successive victory at Craven Cottage would see Newcastle equal the 45-point total they managed two seasons ago, their best in the Premier League since they returned from a brief exile at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
Head coach Bruce warned his side not to expect Fulham to be pushovers, though.
He said: “Look at Sheffield United being relegated and all of a sudden before they came to us, they’d won two out of four where they hadn’t won two for six months. The pressure’s off, go and enjoy it.
“We saw Brighton the other day go and beat the champions, we’ve seen Southampton put their best run together in the last month or so. It’s part and parcel of it.
“But I’ll do my utmost to make sure that we try our best to get on to 45 points and keep the season going just one more time. Then it would be a really, really smashing end to the season that we’ve just had.
“Just recently, just when we needed it, when we’d really come under the pump, we’ve produced form which has put us into the top six or seven on current form, which is terrific for the team. I’m delighted with the way they’ve responded.”
Bruce himself has endured a testing campaign amid a takeover saga which shows no imminent signs of being resolved, and he was booed by some fans on their return to St James’ Park in midweek.
However, he will spend the summer plotting the way ahead in an attempt to strengthen a squad which has under-performed at times, but got it right when it needed to.
He said: “I think we need at least three or four. But for me now, it’s adding that bit of quality to the squad.
“It’s a really, really difficult competition we’re in, but certainly if we added three or four players to the current squad we’ve got – and adding that bit of quality is the most important thing for me.”