STEVE BRUCE has insisted he is not leaving Matty Longstaff out of his starting line-up because of the Newcastle United midfielder’s ongoing contract stand-off.

The Magpies are without a number of central midfielders, with Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff both expected to miss the remainder of the campaign, but rather than start with the younger of the two Longstaff brothers in Newcastle’s last two matches at Manchester City and Watford, Bruce has opted to field Fabian Schar at the base of midfield.

Schar, more normally a centre-half, could remain in his new role when Newcastle host Tottenham tomorrow, but Bruce insists his selection choices are not being driven by Matty Longstaff’s contract situation.

While the 20-year-old agreed to sign a short-term waiver enabling him to play to the end of the season, he is expected to leave Newcastle as a free agent before the end of the month, with Italian side Udinese still favourites to sign him.

Bruce said: “Take the contract aside, I’ve played Fabian Schar because of his physicality. That’s why I’ve played Fab in there. He’s played in that position for his country who are eighth in the world.

“This debate that I’m not putting Matty in the team simply because of his contract, it’s not true. We’d all like Matty to stay and get things resolved, but the ball is in his court. But I’m certainly not picking a team with that in mind. I picked a team at Watford I thought could win the game.

“I gave the kid his debut. He’s had a thigh injury unfortunately when he came back from lockdown, which was a pretty severe one. I’ve treated him the way it should be.

“We’ve made him a huge offer, it’s up to the boy to commit himself. I’m not not picking him because he hasn’t signed a contract. We think a lot of Matty and the ball is in his court.”

Jamaal Lascelles is a major doubt for tomorrow’s game with Spurs, which could influence Bruce’s thinking when it comes to his line-up as he may feel he needs to play Schar at centre-half. Alternatively, he could play Emil Krafth in a central-defensive role if Lascelles missed out.

He said: “We’ve got one or two injury issues. Jamaal hobbled off (at Watford) and I don’t think he’s going to make it. Isaac and Sean look like they’re going to struggle too. We’ve got one or two knocks but we’ll see how they are today.”