STEVE BRUCE insists he is still “confident” that Newcastle United will scramble to safety this season – and claims the Magpies are one of “six or seven team” embroiled in the battle to avoid relegation.

Last night’s 3-1 defeat at Manchester United means Newcastle are just three points clear of the bottom three, with 18th-placed Fulham having cut the gap as they beat Sheffield United on Saturday night.

Bruce’s side turned in an improved showing at Old Trafford, but while Allan Saint-Maximin’s first-half strike cancelled out Marcus Rashford’s opener, second-half goals from Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes condemned Newcastle to their eighth defeat in the last ten league games.

The pressure is mounting with 13 games to play, but Bruce remains adamant his side will emerge from the season with their Premier League status intact.

“There’s six or seven teams in and around it with 13 games to go,” said the Newcastle boss. “I’m sure there’s a few looking over the shoulders, and of course we’re one of them.

“But I’m still quietly confident that we’ll be fine - if we keep performing like we did for the first hour. It was always going to difficult going to Chelsea away and then Man United away, but I’ve been pleased with certain aspects of it.”

Newcastle were arguably the better side for the opening 45 minutes of last night’s game, but defensive lapses from Emil Krafth and Karl Darlow led to Manchester United’s opening goal, Jamal Lewis was at fault for the home side’s second, and Joe Willock conceded a penalty to enable Fernandes to complete the scoring.

“I thought we played really well for an hour,” said Bruce. “They got a goal just at the right time, and then another one just after half-time. The first goal, I’m sure we can defend better. The second one, we got a horrible deflection that took it into the path of James.

“We’re disappointed, but I can take a lot of positives from it, especially our performance in the first hour. There were large periods I was pleased with, but we have to put the whole thing together and get a few results, of course.”

Bruce lost Joelinton with a groin issue that makes the Brazilian a doubt for Saturday’s game with Wolves, and the Magpies manager is also pondering a change of goalkeeper after Darlow was at fault for Rashford’s goal.

“Karl has had a magnificent season so far, but he’ll be disappointed with the first goal in partciular,” said Bruce. “Obviously, with goalkeepers, it’s the cardinal sin if they let one in at their near post."