WHISPER it quietly on Tyneside, but Steve Bruce might actually be doing a decent job at Newcastle United. Who’d have thought it?

Plenty Newcastle United fans are still staying away, highlighted by another Premier League game played in front of more than 7,500 empty seats at St James’ Park, but Bruce is not doing too badly in trying to build on the Rafa Benitez era.

Clearly the bigger picture is the Mike Ashley factor. There are supporters out there who will never return until Ashley has sold up and moved on, and a decent enough start does not suddenly paint a picture that the club under his ownership holds greater ambition.

But while more than 800 maroon and blue scarves produced by a supporters group have been bought in a bid to illustrate symbolic rejection of Ashley to evoke memories of the 1995-96 days under Kevin Keegan and Sir John Hall, Bruce can only do what he can to deliver results on the pitch in 2019.

And as Newcastle head into the November international break sitting just two points shy of fifth and seven clear of the relegation zone after sending Bournemouth south pointless, it is hard for anyone to argue that Bruce isn’t doing a good job 12 matches in.

The former Sheffield Wednesday manager, who gambled by turning his back on Hillsborough to succeed Benitez when very few wanted him to, is working away and, crucially, managing to get the players he has at his disposal to deliver.

There is still plenty of time for things to go wrong, but Newcastle appear to be improving. After a sloppy start against a dangerous Bournemouth in which they fell behind, Newcastle recovered and excited the 43,400 home fans who had turned up to watch.

While goals remain a problem among the forwards, the understanding between the unpredictable and enigmatic Allan Saint-Maximim with Miguel Almiron and Joelinton is growing. It seems a matter of time before they start to find the net – something they have done just once between them this season.

If that does happen then why shouldn’t Newcastle carry on from this strong start. One defeat from their last five, winning three of those, has given everyone a new lease of life since the battering at Leicester at the end of September. The mood is changing and confidence within the dressing room is growing.

Newcastle have accumulated 15 points and a squad largely inherited from the Benitez era is performing for Bruce, whose biggest critics are being forced to admit he is on the right track to getting things right.

“From the players inside the club internally we were all confident in ourselves,” said wing-back DeAndre Yedlin. “We knew what we had in this squad and we were not going to let anyone disrupt that.

“I don’t think we are surprised with this start. It is not a surprise. But we are happy with it. We are confident in our abilities. I don’t want to say top ten is the aim, we just want to finish as high as we can. That is the motive and we will keep pushing for that.”

Bournemouth’s start suggested Newcastle would find it tough to win back-to-back league games for the first time since April. Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Joshua King had all caused problems before Harry Wilson had scored from a well-worked corner in the 14th minute when he moved away from Jetro Willems to turn Fraser’s low delivery in.

The Cherries hit the woodwork after that and also passed the ball around freely in the final third, so when Jamaal Lascelles was forced off with a knee injury sustained in an early collision with Martin Dubravka there must have been fears of a tough afternoon for Newcastle.

But with Saint-Maximim looking to attack his man down the left, with Willems impressing in support, and Almiron lively with Yedlin down the right, the home side grew in confidence. Jonjo Shelvey epitomised that with the way he demanded the ball and was useful with it.

Saint-Maximim had already crashed an effort against the bar, which he should have done better with after Steve Cook had misjudged Joelinton’s flick, before Newcastle did level with three minutes remaining of the first half.

Almiron was involved, twisting and turning down the right before crossing deep where Saint-Maximim controlled and had an effort deflect towards the back post where Yedlin appeared from nowhere to dive and head in. There was a VAR check for offside but the goal stood.

The question was whether Newcastle could carry on their late first half flurry in the second half and they did, which lifted the home supporters and they took the lead six minutes after the break. Willems’ cross was nodded down by Federico Fernandez and Ciaran Clark finished things off.

It was the rejuvenated Clark’s second inside a week and both goals meant seven of Newcastle’s last nine have been scored by defenders

“It is good for us,” said Yedlin. “A lot of people look at the attackers and ask what are they doing. People don’t realise the defensive work they are putting in for the team. They make the game a lot easier for us with their pressing and the way they push guys to one side. It makes life easier. They are doing a lot of the dirty work. They deserve some credit for that as well.

“A lot of the goals are from set-pieces, and we have some good big guys at set-pieces. Then there is the back five. With wing-backs you can get on the back post and sneak in there. The gaffer has said to me to get in there and try to score and get the ones that are bouncing around. It has been good to get some chances.”

What would have capped Newcastle’s display would have been the forwards finding the net. Joelinton was denied by Aaron Ramsdale when he was sent clear on the hour, while their frustrations were summed up when a floored Saint-Maximim actually stopped a goalbound Almiron effort when the Frenchman had raced through again to be thwarted by Ramsdale.

Those could have been costly because King missed a stoppage-time header right at the end to have claimed a point, but overall Newcastle had defended well enough to win – and Bruce’s decision to switch back to a three at the back continues to reap rewards.

Yedlin said: “Every game you want a clean sheet. I was supposed to be in front of King. I am glad I scored to make up for that. I lost concentration a bit. That happens and that is why you have team-mates around you.

“It was a huge win. The gaffer stressed how back-to-back wins can change the look of the league table, and we have shown that. We don’t rest now. We still have to push and push and get as many wins as we can.”

The late drama is certainly not what Bruce wants to endure, but he was happy. He said: “That last King chance was dreadful. I should calm down at my age. We didn’t have it our own way, to come back and show the determination we did was pleasing. I always thought we were a threat and that is pleasing.

“It’s a good sign. The players have rolled their sleeves up since Leicester. If we hadn’t had that resilience then it would have been a different story. Back to back wins in the Premier League is crucial. We can now enjoy the next few days and get ready for Aston Villa which is a long way away.”