STEVE BRUCE is hoping Joelinton’s first Premier League goal for almost ten months will inspire the Newcastle United striker to bigger and better things in the remainder of the season.

Joelinton scored his first league goal at St James’ Park as the Magpies marked their return from lockdown with an emphatic 3-0 win over ten-man Sheffield United.

Allan Saint-Maximin and Matt Ritchie found the target after Blades defender John Egan was sent off at the start of the second half, but the biggest cheers from the Newcastle bench in an otherwise deserted St James’ were reserved for Joelinton’s close-range finish with 12 minutes left.

The Brazilian has endured a difficult first season on Tyneside following a club-record £40m move from Hoffenheim last summer, and Bruce is hoping yesterday’s strike will mark a change in his fortunes.

“He wants to do well,” said the Newcastle boss. “It’s never easy being given the number nine shirt to play for Newcastle, never. With the history of the club and what it is, it thrives on the number nine.

“He’s a young lad, and to come from a different country and league, there’s no doubt he’s found it tough. He found it tough today again, but he’s got a goal and hopefully that will make him a lot better.

“He wants to achieve things, and when they’ve got a good attitude like he has, you know they’re going to be okay. He’s scored a goal, and we’ve been working on getting him into that area in the box. Something like 68 per cent of goals are scored there, and we got two of them in there today with Allan and him. I’m very, very pleased.”

Joelinton’s only other Premier League goal came in August, when he scored the winner at Tottenham, and his failure to justify his price fee has become something of a symbol of Newcastle’s wider attacking struggles.

By his own admission, the Brazilian struggled to settle after moving from Germany, and with his family and friends in South America, it cannot have been easy for him to cope with the mental challenges of life in lockdown over the last three months.

Bruce tried to keep tabs on him while he was not allowed to attend the training ground, and was delighted to see the 23-year-old’s passion and professionalism rewarded yesterday.

“When somebody wants to achieve something and do well, we all want him to do well too,” he said. “He’s a really genuinely good lad, and he gives his all for the team. Once you keep doing that, and you’re a team player like he is, then you’re going to get the respect of everybody. I think we’re all just delighted for him. That’s two or three he’s got over the last few games.

“Personally, he’s probably suffered in the lockdown more than anybody. He’s had no family here, no friends, and he’s been holed up in an apartment somewhere. It’s been really, really difficult for him, and I’m delighted for him because he’s a genuinely good pro and he can only get better.”

Having claimed a 3-2 win in an FA Cup tie at West Brom in their penultimate game before the lockdown, Newcastle have now scored three goals in two of their last three matches.

With Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron breaking to get alongside Joelinton in the box, Bruce has released some of the shackles that were constraining his attacking players earlier in the season.

The switch to a flat back four has helped, with the Newcastle boss encouraging his forward players to be more adventurous in an attempt to pose a threat to the opposition.

“We tried to change (formation) early in the season, but the one thing I detected very quickly is that they weren’t ready for change,” said Bruce. “With the experience I’d like to think I’ve got, I just said, ‘Why change it? Let them be comfortable’.

“But the time came when I thought our big players at the top end of the pitch weren’t becoming a threat in the final third. They were working so hard for the team, but we had lost that bit of counter-attacking threat.

“I didn’t think we were a big enough threat, so the time was right to change. It’s proven at the moment that they’re enjoying it, and we’re certainly more of a threat. We scored three against West Brom in the cup tie and scored three again today. Things are looking up.”

The win lifts Newcastle to 12th position in the table, and has opened up an 11-point gap to the relegation zone with eight more games to play.

“After the restart, the one thing you want to do is get off to a good start,” said Bruce. “Although my staff have just said it could only happen to me that we have a 3-0 win and there’s nobody here to see it!”