NEWCASTLE UNITED have decided to prioritise Premier League experience as they look to complete their search for a new manager – with former Sunderland boss Steve Bruce now featuring prominently on their list of leading candidates.

Having spent the last week assessing a number of different options, Magpies managing director Lee Charnley is ready to start a more formal process of appointing Rafael Benitez’s successor.

While some high-profile overseas names have been considered – Patrick Vieira was regarded as an extremely appealing option before he committed himself to Nice – the Magpies hierarchy have now concluded that previous experience of managing in the English top-flight is a key attribute they will prioritise in the final stages of their search.

The clock is ticking ahead of the start of the new Premier League season, with Newcastle due to play their opening pre-season game a week tomorrow when they take on Wolves in the Premier League Asia Trophy in Nanjing.

Bruce boasts extensive experience of managing in the top-flight, having led three different clubs in the top-flight during a career that has seen him preside over ten teams. He was mentioned as a potential candidate in the immediate aftermath of Benitez’s departure, but faded into the background somewhat when the Newcastle hierarchy initially looked elsewhere. However, he has attracted strong support in the betting markets today, with the odds on him being appointed as the Magpies’ new boss tumbling from around 33-1 to 9-4.

A boyhood Newcastle fan who was born and raised in Corbridge, Bruce was jump at the chance to take over at St James’ Park.

He began his current role in charge of Sheffield Wednesday in January, but while Mike Ashley would have to pay compensation to prise him from Hillsborough, the terms of his current deal in charge of the Owls mean it would not be an especially expensive arrangement.

Appointing Bruce would not be a popular move with a large swathe of the Newcastle support, with the 58-year-old’s reputation having been damaged by a succession of disappointments in recent years.

He was sacked after two years as Sunderland boss with the Black Cats on the fringe of the relegation zone, and was relegated with Hull City before moving to Aston Villa, where he suffered defeat in the Championship play-off final.

He is, however, regarded as one of the leading domestic candidates in the corridors of power at St James’ Park, with his extensive experience in the top-flight edging him ahead of Chris Wilder, who won promotion with Sheffield United last season, and David Moyes, who also had an unsuccessful spell in charge of Sunderland.