STEVE BRUCE is adamant he does not want to sell Dwight Gayle in January, and remains confident the 29-year-old will play a prominent role in the remainder of Newcastle United’s season.

With Andy Carroll having returned from injury to make his first start of the season in Thursday’s 2-0 win at Sheffield United, Gayle finds himself back as the third-choice option in Newcastle’s attacking pecking order.

His last Magpies start came back in May 2018, and his lack of first-team opportunities has resulted in sustained speculation over his future, with Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and West Brom all being heavily linked with a potential January move.

There have been suggestions that Newcastle would be willing to sell for around £15m, but having tried to sign the striker on a number of occasions in the past, Bruce has no desire to move Gayle on.

“I don’t want him to go anywhere,” said the Newcastle boss, who will return to the St James’ Park sidelines when Southampton travel to Tyneside tomorrow afternoon. “Look, I’ve always liked him, I tried to buy him three times.

“I think he is a natural goalscorer, which is something every club would have. He’s by far the best Championship striker there’s been for the last five to eight years. I saw what he did last season at West Brom because he was in the Midlands. Right foot, left foot. How many did he score? Twenty-four goals to nearly get them promoted.

“I don’t want him to go anywhere, and it would have to be a ridiculous offer and amount of money. Let’s be fair, everyone’s got their price, but I don’t want Dwight to go anywhere, that’s for sure.”

Had Gayle not injured himself during the pre-season trip to China, there is a good chance he would have been pushing for a starting spot in the early weeks of the campaign.

As it was, he spent more than two months kicking his heels on the sidelines before belatedly making his seasonal reappearance as a substitute in the 1-0 defeat at Chelsea.

He has struggled for game time since then, and has become an increasingly frustrated figure on the training ground, something Bruce both understands and encourages.

“He’s been knocking on my door constantly, wanting to be playing,” he said. “Since the day I walked through the door, it has been non-stop.

“But I’d rather it was like that than have a player who doesn’t care.

“We have a great relationship, and I hope that extends to the way he feels about me. I’ve been delighted since he’s been on the training ground and been fit because it wasn’t easy for him to start with.

“He had a horrible injury. He’s not far off being fit now. For four or five weeks, he’s probably been training every day.”

Gayle is competing with Carroll and Joelinton for a place in the starting side, and Bruce admits he does not really know whether the former will be capable of playing two games in the space of four days.

Having started at Bramall Lane, Carroll will be assessed by Newcastle’s medical staff this morning to ascertain his fitness levels ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Southampton.

The Tynesider had a major impact on Thursday, with his flick on setting up Jonjo Shelvey’s controversial second-half goal, and having championed his signing as a free agent in the summer, Bruce was delighted to see him making his mark.

“He can be hugely important, but we’ve got to make sure we look after him,” said the Magpies boss. “He was performing in training for the four or five weeks before he unfortunately nicked a little rib muscle, which is always painful. But when that was okay, he was ready to go.

“I just thought on a night like that, against their three centre-backs and the physicality of Sheffield United, he would cause them a problem.

“The longer it went on, the better he got, and he got an assist in his first game, which can’t be bad.

“He’ll be a big asset to us if he stays well, and that is the big whole thing for me and my medical staff – to keep him right, because if he is right, he’ll be a handful for anybody.”

It is not just on the pitch where Carroll is having a positive impact, with Bruce also acknowledging the extent of the 30-year-old’s influence in the dressing room.

“He does have a presence, and it lifts people,” he said. “He has a physicality and presence about him, and of course he is a very good player when he is right.

“So, he gives everyone a lift when he’s in and around the training ground, and I’m delighted. He’s waited a very long time for his start, but this (Bramall Lane) was the place for him and it turned out okay.”

Attention now switches to tomorrow’s home game with Southampton, a side that have improved markedly in the last few weeks, picking up seven points from their last three games.

“They drew with Arsenal and won back-to-back games at home, so we’ve got them just as they’re finding form,” said Bruce.

“When I look at their squad, and what they have up front and in midfield, they’re good players so it is a hard challenge again.”