STEVE BRUCE last night praised Karl Darlow’s goalkeeping heroics against Liverpool – and described the shot-stopper as his ‘number one’ ahead of a fit-again Martin Dubravka.

Darlow made three world-class saves as Newcastle signed off for 2020 with a creditable goalless draw against the Premier League leaders at St James’ Park.

The pick of the stops saw Darlow get his fingertips to a goal-bound shot from Mo Salah in the first half, and he followed up with two equally eye-catching saves from Roberto Firmino headers.

Dubravka was Newcastle’s Player of the Year last season, and the Slovakian is finally available again after recovering from the serious foot injury he suffered in the summer.

But while Dubravka will be hoping to win back his place in the starting side, Bruce will happily stick with Darlow if he continues to produce performances like last night’s.

“When you play the big teams, you’re expecting your goalkeeper to have to make a save or two,” said the Newcastle boss, who celebrates his 60th birthday today. “To be fair to Karl, all season he’s produced some very, very good saves.

“I couldn’t be more delighted for him as a lad. He’s had to wait patiently, and see Dubravka, who was last year’s Player of the Year. What he needed to do was the grasp the opportunity which fell before him when Dubravka got injured, running in a park would you believe.

“He’s grasped the opportunity and, at the moment, he’s the number one goalkeeper. But I’m in the fortunate position where I’ve got two or three very good goalkeepers. That can only be healthy.”

Having failed to lay a glove on Manchester City as they were beaten on Boxing Day, Newcastle turned in a much-improved performance as they frustrated a Liverpool side featuring all of Jurgen Klopp’s attacking big guns.

The Magpies were defensively resilient throughout, and also carried a threat at the other end, as exemplified by the second-half header from Ciaran Clark that Alisson did well to tip around the post.

“The effort, endeavour and commitment they showed was excellent,” he said. “It shows what you need to get a result. I couldn’t be more pleased at what they’ve done.

“We’ve tried to be further up the pitch, so we engage a little bit higher. It’s something which is new to everybody, and it’s still work in progress, but I was pleased with the way we went about it.

“We still have to use the ball better when we’ve got it, but certainly the way we approached it, I was very pleased.”

Newcastle face another difficult test on Sunday, when Leicester City visit Gallowgate, but Bruce is hoping his players will take heart from last night’s display.

“I hope it breeds a bit of confidence,” he said. “When you take something off one of the big teams, you should take confidence from it.”