STEVE BRUCE insists he kept his transfer budget intact in January to enable Newcastle United to make the sort of progress in the summer to ensure improvement is made next season under his watch.

Bruce was appointed late last summer so didn’t have much of a pre-season to work with the squad he largely inherited, neither did he have the time to discuss potential targets for that window to help attack his first season in charge.

Provided he can keep Newcastle up – and the gap to the relegation zone was reduced to five points over the weekend – he thinks he will be in a better place to prepare the team for what he wants when the new campaign begins in August.

Bruce was talking after being asked to reflect on Saturday’s goalless draw with Burnley at St James’ Park, when the Magpies delivered an improved display with a new system and approach. Yet, ultimately, his forwards were unable to score again.

“Of course we are looking at the summer,” said Bruce. “We would be wrong not to. That’s why I didn’t spend any money in January.

“If I had brought someone in who was not of better quality, we would be stuck in the same situation. We’ll go again, we’ll have another look again and see what we can do.”

Newcastle have now gone six hours without finding the net in the Premier League, and that was reached despite a performance which led to 21 efforts on goal being created – four on target.

Bruce is certain he has the players who can score goals but he accepts he needs to come up with the right system to help, having decided it is no longer essential to start with five at the back.

“We’ve got to keep working towards scoring ultimately,” said Bruce. “When you look at the front three and what we’ve invested, I’m sure all of us would want more but that’s the hardest part of the Premier League.

“No matter what league you play in, you come here and this is the biggest and best league. I don’t think Joelinton, for example, will come across many centre-backs like James Tarkowski in the aerial duels.

“It is adapting and that’s why, for me, it’s always difficult when they’re coming from afar to settle into the Premier League. Especially if you’re a forward player because you have to be a top player to score more than a dozen goals here.”

Joelinton was moved to the left-hand side to face Burnley, having gone a staggering 24 league matches without scoring as a striker before Saturday. Now, with another start under his belt, it is 2,023 minutes on the pitch since he found the net at Tottenham in August.

“This year, you only have to look at West Ham investing heavily in a big centre-forward and I can understand the way the club were thinking,” said Bruce. “They wanted a big centre-forward to lead the line, the No 9 for Newcastle, and you search around England and think, ‘where do you get one of those?’

“So, of course, you go to Europe and if you look at Sebastien Haller at West Ham and the boy who’s injured at Aston Villa (Wesley), who’s another big No.9, and you look at the returns they give, they have all found it difficult. That’s my experience of it. It takes a while so maybe another 12 months.

“Of course you can’t wait that long - that’s the problem. We’ll try to find a solution. In my opinion, unless you’re a top one, to get used to the Premier League takes maybe a season.”

That said, though, Bruce was relatively satisfied with the attacking improvements in Newcastle’s display after watching his side create plenty of chances against Burnley.

“I was pleased. Look, it’s a first thing and I’ve said repeatedly we’re not the first team to change shape,” he said. “There’s only four or five in the Premier League who play with a back three or a back five - whatever you want to call it.

“The vast majority have a back four, whether they play 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. It’s food for thought so there’s a lot of positives but a lot of disappointing ones, too.”

Bruce has asked Newcastle to play with wing-backs and three centre-halves for the majority of the season, which has made his side the lowest scorers in the Premier League.

“When you’re doing OK and, as I’ve said repeatedly, they’re comfortable with what they’ve done,” said Bruce, whose side face West Brom in the FA Cup on Tuesday.

“I just thought over the last three, four weeks that the attacking threat has disappeared and we’ve leaked in a few goals, too, which has been our mantra this year: to be difficult to play against, to be difficult to beat.

“Especially here, it stacks up - we’ve got the best defensive record. I wish we had the most goals record - don’t get me wrong - but that’s something we have got to improve on but it was much better so we’ll see what that brings.”