STEVE BRUCE defended his decision to play Dwight Gayle in an unconventional wide position in last night’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa – and expressed his relief at the stoppage-time header from Jamaal Lascelles that salvaged a point.

Lascelles headed home Jacob Murphy’s cross in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure a 1-1 draw after Ciaran Clark’s 86th-minute own goal had threatened to condemn Newcastle to defeat.

The draw takes the Magpies two points ahead of 18th-placed Fulham, who host league leaders Manchester City at Craven Cottage this evening, and a point clear of Brighton, who travel to Southampton tomorrow lunchtime.

Despite Lascelles’ header, Newcastle have now won just two of their last 19 matches in all competitions, and for long periods of last night’s game they were devoid of attacking inspiration.

The absence of Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin is a mitigating factor, but Bruce’s decision to play Gayle and Joelinton as split strikers, with Ryan Fraser playing between them as a ‘false nine’, also restricted his side’s threat in the final third.

Bruce changed tack in the second half, moving Gayle into a more central position, but he did not feel his initial line-up was wrong.

“We’ve played a certain way for the past six or seven weeks now,” said the Newcastle boss. “I spoke briefly on it last week, and said we didn’t want to change the shape or the way we’ve gone about it.

“That’s how we’re trying to play. I’ll be a bit more technical and say we’re playing with split strikers if you like, but that’s the way we’ve gone about our work. I changed him (Gayle) and Ryan just after half-time. That’s the way we’ve set up, and that’s the way we’re going to continue.”

Newcastle looked to be heading to defeat when Clark deflected Ollie Watkins’ header into his own net, but Bruce’s players deserve credit for the way in which they dug deep to claim an equaliser. Jacob Murphy crossed from the left, and Lascelles stole in front of his marker at the front post before powering a header past Emiliano Martinez.

“When you concede a goal like we did and hit the bar, then it’s disappointing,” said Bruce. “But the one thing I was really pleased about was the desire. It would have been extremely cruel if we hadn’t have taken something from the match."