STEVE BRUCE has insisted he was responsible for the appointment of Graeme Jones as a first-team coach – and has dismissed suggestions the former Bournemouth number two could be a threat to his job as “conspiracy theories”.

Jones was handed a job on Newcastle’s coaching staff at the end of last month, leaving his position as assistant manager at the Vitality Stadium to return to his native Tyneside to work alongside Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence on the Magpies’ backroom team.

His appointment was followed by a lengthy interview on Newcastle’s official website in which he appeared to be likening his role to that of a consultant, assessing Bruce’s performance and suggesting tweaks and changes.

That in turn fuelled speculation that, with Bruce’s position being called into question after a string of poor results, he had been appointed as a potential caretaker in the event of Mike Ashley deciding to dismiss his current boss.

Jones’ appearances in the technical area have led some Newcastle supporters to suggest he is now the club’s de facto manager, a notion Bruce has been quick to laugh off.

The Magpies boss claims Jones’ arrival has been on the cards for months, and is adamant he was the driving force behind the decision to appoint the Gateshead-born 50-year-old, who has previously managed Luton Town.

“I’ve had this conversation (about Jones’ position) thrown at me, but it had been talked about weeks ago,” said Bruce, ahead of tomorrow’s home game with Southampton.

“Weeks ago, we’d been talking about bringing someone in to help us, when we had the problems with Steve Agnew (who was forced to isolate because of Covid) and Stephen Clemence (who lost his father). He was my – and I reiterate my – first choice. All these conspiracy theories need to be put to bed.”

The speculation over Bruce’s future reached fever pitch ahead of last weekend’s trip to Goodison Park, only for Newcastle’s 2-0 victory to quell at least some of the anger that was building amongst the Magpies’ fanbase.

Tuesday’s home defeat to Crystal Palace tempered some of the optimism that had been generated by the weekend win over Everton, although with 60 per cent of possession, Newcastle’s midweek performance still represented a marked improvement on many of the displays that had contributed to the 11-game winless run that was finally halted last Saturday.

While Newcastle have been plummeting down the table, a number of their rivals in the bottom half have seen their form improve markedly, a juxtaposition that has increased the festering frustration amongst the fans.

Brighton’s midweek win at Anfield lifted them above the Magpies, pushing Newcastle back down into 16th position, while Burnley had won three games in a row prior to losing to Chelsea and Manchester City.

Nevertheless, with an eight-point gap to 18th-placed Fulham, Bruce’s side remain in a relatively comfortable position, which would improve further if they were to see off Southampton tomorrow.

“Brighton have had a very good two weeks, winning three out of four, so you have to take your hat off to them,” said Bruce. “But I’ve said from day one it’s always your accumulation of points.

"We got to 18 or 19 points very quickly – we won five of our first 11 games – but we’ve been stuck in and around that, so let’s hope we can skittle through the 20s and get to that magical figure, whatever it’s going to be.

“If you’re in the bottom half, the reason you’re there is because you’ve had a bad spell somewhere along the line. We hope we’ve turned the corner with ours. We hope we can get another victory against Southampton, two in a week would be a really decent return.”

Southampton conceded nine as they imploded at Old Trafford on Tuesday, but Bruce does not expect their capitulation to have a bearing on tomorrow’s game.

“When you look at it, they were down to ten men after a minute or so, then they were down to nine men,” he said. “They had half their team missing through injury. They will want their big players back fit, and it looks as if that’s happening for them.

“They had a bit of good fortune with the overturning of the red card (for Jan Bednarek), (Jannik) Vestegaard looks like he’s fit, and we’re hearing the right-back, (Kyle) Walker-Peters, is fit too. (Oriel) Romeu is fit, so all of a sudden, from being depleted the other night, they look as if they’re nearly full strength.”