FOR the last few weekends, Newcastle United have been nervously looking over their shoulder, hoping for favours from Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. Today, as they prepare to host West Ham United at St James’ Park, they have the opportunity to strike first and take what would be a massive step on the road to securing their own survival.

West Brom, whose back-to-back victories over Chelsea and Southampton have rekindled their survival hopes, do not return to action until they travel to Leicester City on Thursday night. Fulham, whose poor recent run has done Newcastle a favour, head to Arsenal tomorrow afternoon.

The Magpies play this lunchtime, and if they can claim another victory over West Ham to go with their opening-weekend success at the London Stadium, they will climb nine points clear of the relegation zone with just six more games to play.

Make the 35-point mark today, and while survival would not be guaranteed, it would take a fairly remarkable set of circumstances to send Newcastle down. Having been at least partially reliant on others for the last couple of weeks, it is time for the Magpies to take care of their own business.

“It’s a really good opportunity,” admitted Bruce. “West Brom aren’t playing this weekend, and Fulham don’t play until Sunday. It’s a good opportunity to put even more daylight there. A win would take us to 35 points, which, in my opinion, is within touching distance of where you need to be. It’s a big game, but it’s big opposition as well. West Ham have had a terrific season.”

When goals from Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick earned Newcastle a 2-0 win in East London in September, it looked as though the Magpies were set for a successful season and West Ham were destined for a nine-month battle against the drop.

Instead, while Newcastle sit in 17th position ahead of today’s game, the Hammers are fourth and heavily involved in the battle for a Champions League spot. The turnaround from the opening months of the season, when West Ham failed to win five of their opening seven league games, has been remarkable, with Bruce quick to praise the role played by David Moyes.

Forget Pep Guardiola, when it comes to selecting the Manager of the Season, Bruce has already cast his ballot for his fellow former Sunderland boss.

“He already has got it (his vote),” said Bruce. “I can comfortably say that. No disrespect to West Ham, but with six or seven games to go, nobody expected them to be competing for a place in the Champions League in the way they are.

“With who they’re up against, fair play to them. I’m delighted for Moysey – he’s proved again what a top-class manager he is. Even if they don’t quite make it, they’ve had a wonderful season. To be in this position now is a terrific achievement.”

It is also a performance that gives heart to a club like Newcastle, who aspire to return to a position where they can challenge for European qualification in the top half of the table.

West Ham finished last season in 16th position, five points clear of relegation but also five points behind Newcastle, yet thanks to a combination of astute recruitment, effective management and resolve when things were not going to plan, they now find themselves harbouring realistic hopes of joining the European elite.

“It gives everybody a look at it, and shows just what you can do,” said Bruce. “They’ve been very shrewd in terms of who they’ve brought in. I think Jesse (Lingard) has been a wonderful signing for them on a loan basis."