STEVE BRUCE has hailed Andy Carroll’s game-changing qualities after the Newcastle United striker came off the bench to transform his side’s 2-1 victory over Southampton.

Trailing to Danny Ings’ second-half strike, the Magpies equalised when Carroll charged to the touchline to deliver the inviting cross that Jonjo Shelvey headed home.

With the Tynesider energising the St James’ Park crowd, Newcastle staged a grandstand finish that saw Federico Fernandez drive home an 87th-minute winner after Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was unable to hold on to Sean Longstaff’s long-range strike.

Carroll was a key performer last Thursday as Newcastle won 2-0 at Sheffield United, and having gradually worked his way back to fitness after joining as a free agent in the summer, the 30-year-old is proving an influential presence.

“You’ve just seen how important Andy can be,” said Bruce, who has guided his side into the top half of the Premier League table for the first time this season. “He had the same impact at Sheffield the other night.

“He leads from the front, and the team respond to that. It’s okay being Andy Carroll, but you have to go out there and do it as well, and today he did that. He was sitting behind me, and I think he was stripped from the 15th minute. Thankfully, he’s okay and he’s come on and won us the match.

“It was like the Andy Carroll of ten years ago. He was everywhere. What a ball for the goal, Jonjo hasn’t had to break his stride. I’m delighted for him. If he stays well, then he can be a big asset to us.

“He adds a little bit of everything. It’s that physical presence, and also his attitude, which has made him a top, top player. Let’s not forget that. His attitude to come and roll up his sleeves and do it, and instantly he made a big difference to us. The ball stuck up the top end of the pitch, and he had a big effect on everybody concerned.”

Carroll’s introduction shortly before the hour mark transformed a game that had looked to be drifting away from Newcastle.

The Magpies were well off the pace in the first half, and initially struggled to rouse themselves after Ings raced clear to open the scoring.

Shelvey’s equaliser changed the mood completely, and having previously come from behind to beat Bournemouth and draw with Manchester City, Newcastle completed another successful recovery mission.

Their refusal to admit defeat says much about the spirit within the squad, as well as the strength of the bond that has been established between the players and their manager.

“The first half from both teams was non-eventful,” said Bruce. “I toyed with changing us, it’s the first time we’ve had three games in six days, and the extra recovery that Southampton had was huge.

“We got in at half-time, the substitutions, and particularly the introduction of Andy and the tweak of formation, gave everybody a bit of life. Again, the spirit was there for everybody to see. That’s three times we’ve been behind at home, and to come back to win again was great to see.

“We’ve only lost our first game here, and it’s always important that your home form stacks up. We’ve given ourselves a nice little platform, but that’s all it is. We’ve still got some big games, we’re not halfway there yet. But December can be a defining month, and we’ve had a decent start.”

The major downside to the day was the injuries sustained by Ciaran Clark and Allan Saint-Maximin. Clark tweaked a calf muscle and was unable to return after the half-time interval, while Saint-Maximin left St James’ Park on crutches after appearing to suffer a recurrence of a hamstring injury in stoppage time.

“We’ve probably picked up two muscle injuries and they’re the fruit of people not having recovered properly,” said Bruce. “When people do it at half-time and full-time like they have, they’re basically fatigued.

“We don’t know how serious it (Saint-Maximin’s injury) is yet. He was the big one before the game, he obviously hadn’t recovered, but then again he’s always a bit like that. I’ll kick myself if it is a long time. The way he pulled up (wasn’t great), but let’s hope it’s not too serious.”