STEVE BRUCE wants to make the permanent signing of Joe Willock a key part of his summer transfer business at Newcastle United.

Willock headed home the third goal of his loan spell from Arsenal at the weekend, with his 83rd-minute effort securing the 3-2 win over West Ham that lifted Newcastle nine points clear of the relegation zone.

The 21-year-old has scored in successive home games after leaving the substitutes’ bench, with his ability to break into the 18-yard box adding an important dimension to Newcastle’s midfield mix.

Bruce has instructed the Magpies’ recruitment team that he would like to sign the youngster on a permanent basis this summer, but it will almost certainly require some tough negotiating with Arsenal to secure a deal.

Willock is contracted to Arsenal until the summer of 2023, and given his age, English background and obvious potential, he will almost certainly command a transfer fee of more than £20m.

“The reason we brought him to the club is that he’s got the ability to get forward and score a goal,” said Bruce. “Thankfully, he’s done it again. He’s obviously disappointed that he didn’t start because he was right in my thoughts because he’d trained so well. We did feel that he’d dropped off slightly, which happens as a young lad. But I’m delighted that he’s got the winner for us with how important it’s been.

“He’s only 21. He’s a hell of a player and a great lad. We’d love to keep him here, that’s for sure. He’s the type of player that you would love to build your club around, but whether that’s possible, I’m not so sure. He’s had a bit impact.”

Newcastle’s victory has lifted them above both Brighton and Burnley into 15th position, and significantly eased the relegation pressure that had been mounting in the second half of the season.

For the second game in a row, Allan Saint-Maximin played a major role in the victory, with his direct running repeatedly troubling the West Ham defence.

Saint-Maximin rolled in the shot that resulted in Issa Diop opening the scoring with an own goal, but hobbled off the field in the second half after injuring his ankle. The problem will be assessed in the next couple of days, with Bruce desperately hoping the Frenchman is not facing yet another long-term lay-off.

“Saint-Maximin has got a bad swollen ankle, which he did after ten minutes,” said the Newcastle boss. “It was touch and go at half-time whether he came out (for the second half). We hope he’s going to be okay. We’ve seen what he’s like when he’s on the pitch and right. We’ll see later on in the week."