STEVE BRUCE has challenged his Newcastle United players to “shut a few people up” by producing one of the shocks of the season when they host Premier League leaders Liverpool tomorrow.

The Magpies have found themselves in the eye of a festive storm as the furious reaction to last week’s Carabao Cup exit at the hands of Brentford failed to abate as Boxing Day brought a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City.

Bruce’s position as manager has been called into question by a significant section of Newcastle supporters on social media, while the club’s players have also been heavily criticised for the meek manner in which they crashed out of the cup last Tuesday.

Things could get even uglier tomorrow, as Newcastle take on a Liverpool side whose one and only league defeat this season came at Aston Villa at the start of October, but having watched his players dig in at the Etihad at the weekend, Bruce is confident they are capable of confounding expectations in order to silence their critics.

“Judging by the response at Man City, there’s certainly an attitude, a togetherness and an application amongst them,” said the Newcastle boss. “Yes, they understand they were beaten by the better team on the night, but the way they stuck together and had a go, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“I hope that came through on the television – I certainly witnessed that pitch-side. They’re only human beings, and of course the criticism hurts. But I hope I can create a mentality to make sure we roll our sleeves up and shut a few people up. The only way to do that is to get a few results.”

Bruce’s post-match comments at the Etihad added fuel to an already raging fire. The boyhood Magpies fan claimed there had been an outbreak of “mass hysteria” in the wake of the Brentford defeat, and stated that his “remit” on Tyneside was to “keep Newcastle in the Premier League”.

Such limited ambition has not gone down well with the Newcastle fans, who once again bemoaned their side’s lack of ambition as they strung ten outfield players behind the ball at the Etihad on Boxing Day.

Another conservative game plan is anticipated tomorrow, but while a number of the Magpies’ rivals in the middle section of the Premier League appear to be taking major steps forward this season, Bruce claims Mike Ashley’s limited investment means you are not comparing like for like if you posit Newcastle’s failure to advance against the progress that has been witnessed at the likes of Leicester City, Everton and Aston Villa.

“Look, the remit hasn’t changed,” said Bruce. “The remit has been like that since I walked through the door. My attitude towards it is that we have to try to aim towards the top ten. That’s what I’ve said. We were two or three positions away from it last year, and over the course of a season, you are where you are. I’m just putting the simple facts out there. Of course, we’d all like to be shooting for the top ten, but the first thing we must do is remain a Premier League outfit.

“I can understand the frustration, of course I can, but that’s where we are. Yes, we’d all like to have been able to do what Everton have been able to do in the last two or three years. You look at Aston Villa since I left, and you’d also like to have had the spending power that has propelled them up the league. Of course, you’d want that. But as I keep on saying, we are where we are. Unfortunately, the reality is that that’s where we are at this particular moment.”

Liverpool have been operating on a different plane for quite some time, and while Jurgen Klopp has a few defensive issues to contend with, with Joel Matip having become the latest Reds player to drop out of contention, the reigning champions’ attack remains as potent as ever with Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all primed to start tomorrow.

“There’s no doubt that they are a quality, quality team,” said Bruce. “Their record and the trophies they’ve won over the last couple of years are there for everybody to see. They’ve been European champions and champions of England – they’re a very good side.”