IT is typical of life at Newcastle United that, despite performing better than many expected before a ball had even been kicked this season, Steve Bruce is under-fire again from certain quarters. He does have his sympathisers but the vultures are circling again too.

Defeat tonight in the FA Cup fourth round replay at Oxford United would warrant more anger, but whether such criticism is justified after two goalless draws in a row at St James’ Park is debatable.

Whatever side of the fence you may sit, though, Bruce has achieved more already this season than most supporters would have predicted post-Rafa Benitez. The former Manchester United defender had a strong feeling it would be like this, regardless of his Geordie roots and his desire to deliver for the club he supported as a boy.

Saturday’s performance against Norwich City was “poor”, he admits that. And yet it extended the Premier League unbeaten run to four matches, the longest they have had this season, temporarily lifting Newcastle up to tenth and on 31 points.

Another step towards safety, and a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in the Mike Ashley era if they can win at Oxford tonight, is not enough it would seem. Now, rather than just results, many want to see playing with style return to St James’ Park.

Bruce would love that too, he claims, but he does not think he has the right men in his squad to mix things up too much, or he feels they could end up dropping into the Championship.

“I could play the way Norwich play quite easily but, for me, it’s all about keeping the club where we need to be,” said Bruce. “I could change just like that. But I think if we changed to four at the back we’d be in trouble.

“I think the players we’ve got are comfortable in the system we’ve got. We didn’t play well against Norwich because we didn’t do enough with the ball, we didn’t create enough problems for them. It’s just the way it’s been the past week or so.

“I have to say in defence of the players, particularly at the top end of the pitch, where we’re crying out for something a bit different, I haven’t been able to freshen things up and give them a few days off.”

Bruce clearly wants to revert to a flat back four, with two up front, that would be his preference. Other teams have proven that playing with three central defenders and wing-backs, can still be offensive and attractive on the eye if three forwards are given more help.

“We haven’t been more entertaining, that’s the wrong word, but we have played well in this system,” said Bruce. “To play well in this system, our two best players, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin, have to play well and on Saturday and last week, they didn’t play well enough. Allan is just coming back from a hamstring, so he’ll be better.

“If we play that way with what we’ve got, we are deep, we defend deep for a reason, but you can’t be entertaining in that. You can be better in that system - let’s be fair, Wolves play exactly the same way as we do, so do Sheffield United, similar anyway, Aston Villa have gone to a back three or a five, if you wish, so... we’ve had a bad week in terms of we didn’t play well enough.”

The Newcastle boss disputed the theory that Newcastle had been lucky, pointing out fortune can’t be the reason over a seventh month period - and his players deserve credit for their character, resilience and ethos.

Bruce was unwilling to bring in the new forward to boost his options before the window closed because he did not think those realistically available would have improved his team. He did manage to bring in Valentino Lazaro and Danny Rose to boost the wide areas, although neither can play at Oxford because they were not signed before the first meeting.

He has stressed how he will not be treating the replay lightly, suggesting Sean and Matty Longstaff will be introduced to the midfield provided the latter overcomes a thigh issue. He would have loved Newcastle to have a full two weeks off, but sympathises with the Football League for wanting to keep FA Cup replays on the calendar.

“I’m certainly not Jurgen Klopp but there’s far too many games,” said Bruce. “If you’re 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League and you’re a Champions League winner I understand resting everyone; you can basically do what you want.

“I think we’ve got to re-schedule the whole thing, why not start the season a week earlier or finish a week later. It’s ludicrous. It’s nonsense. I understand that, for a club like Oxford, the replay probably means signing a player, so I understand that side of it.

“But I also understand you can’t expect top players to keep going Tuesday, Saturday. In my humble opinion we should try to structure the league, look after it, better. It’s nonsense.”