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Ciaran Kelly

Newcastle hierarchy have already gambled and injury crisis is no excuse if club gets relegated

The scan results could have been an awful lot worse, of course, but Newcastle United will be without their three best players for at least the rest of the month.

With star striker Callum Wilson already sidelined for the next three or four weeks, Miguel Almiron had to come off at half-time of the Magpies' 1-1 draw against Wolves after suffering knee ligament damage while Allan Saint-Maximin tore his groin midway through the second half.

Although Wilson is doing all he can to get back as quickly as possible, Steve Bruce has repeatedly talked of 'boxing clever' with the striker given the nature of his hamstring issue.

Yes, Wilson could be rushed back for the trip to Brighton on March 20 but if Newcastle's top scorer then breaks down at the AMEX, his season would be as good as over.

Newcastle have now lost six players to injury in their last two home games and only Emil Krafth, who came off on Saturday night with a shin injury, has avoided a lengthy lay-off.

Laura Woods and Bayo Akinfenwa talk to Callum Wilson about recovering from injury, choosing Newcastle, scoring for England

Any side would struggle without their best players - just look at how far Liverpool have fallen - but that cannot be used as an excuse if Newcastle ultimately go down. Nor should merely staying up be viewed as an achievement.

While injuries and illness have hurt Newcastle this season, the Magpies should not be just three points clear of the relegation zone with 12 league games to go.

There was much talk of a top half finish at the start of the campaign but Newcastle are now as close to 19th-placed West Brom in the table as they are to 11th-placed Leeds, who were only promoted last summer.

Newcastle have won just two of their last 17 games in all competitions and that would lead to big changes at any other club. However, the hierarchy have kept faith with Steve Bruce, which has ironically proved the biggest gamble of all, even if there is no Benitez-like figure waiting in the wings this time.

There have been some positives to take from aspects of recent performances but points are what ultimately matter at this stage of the season.

Newcastle coach Graeme Jones (left) and head coach Steve Bruce (PA)

Newcastle have amassed 26 points from 26 games i.e. par; when the black-and-whites previously went down, in 2009 and 2016, they had accumulated 28 points and 24 points respectively at this stage of the campaign.

18th-placed Fulham may have some brutal fixtures ahead but, clearly, Newcastle are going to need to pick up at least four or five points from their next three games against West Brom, Aston Villa and Brighton.

Saying that, winning games was hard enough when Wilson, Saint-Maximin and Almiron were all fit; the trio have scored 16 of Newcastle's 27 league goals this season and also have nine assists to their name in the top-flight.

But Newcastle still have players in reserve who, in the right system, could prove the difference in games against West Brom and Brighton.

Dwight Gayle finished last season with four goals in eight league games - proving he can score goals at this level when given an extended run in the side - while Ryan Fraser is a match-winner on his day with his deliveries.

Joelinton, for all his faults, has played his best football for Newcastle in a No 10 role facing the opposition goal and the Brazilian could fill in for Miguel Almiron.

Bruce also has Jacob Murphy and Andy Carroll to call upon and even if the pair are only used as substitutes, their respective crossing ability and presence in the final third can cause a team like West Brom problems late in a game.

At the back, too, Federico Fernandez could return and the Magpies desperately need to start keeping clean sheets to ease the pressure at the other end of the field.

Bruce has admitted Newcastle are 'going to have to find a way' and highlighted how his side got 'some results' last season despite Jonjo Shelvey being the club's top goalscorer in the Premier League with just six goals.

Given how defenders scored 38% of Newcastle's goals last season in the top-flight, set plays really will be important in the coming weeks.

Newcastle's fixtures only get tougher when Wilson, Saint-Maximin and Almiron potentially return next month - Spurs, Burnley, West Ham and Liverpool all lie in wait - but the Magpies have to pick up wins sooner or later.

Their Premier League status depends on it.

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