STEVE BRUCE claims Newcastle United “deserve credit” for finishing in 12th position in the Premier League, and remains confident he can take the club forward next season.

The Magpies climbed three places on the final day of the season as goals from Joe Willock and Fabian Schar secured a 2-0 win over Fulham.

Having spent the majority of the season battling to avoid the drop, Newcastle have ultimately secured their highest finish in three years, and while he admits finishing in the bottom half of the table should not be a cause for celebration, Bruce is delighted to have proved some of his critics wrong.

“When we really needed the results, the players and staff have worked tirelessly to turn it round,” said the Magpies manager. “We’ll never say it’s an achievement to finish 12th for a club of our stature, but it’s an achievement. I hope the people who have written us off, they’ll eat humble pie and give us some credit.

“Of course, we can take the club forward from here, but it’s small steps. My aim from day one has been to try and keep Newcastle out of the bottom half of the division, I’ve said that. We’ve still got a lot to do in my opinion, but that’s my job and I’m trying my best to achieve it.”

With the season now over, Bruce will turn his attention to resolving some of the outstanding contractual matters relating to his squad.

A number of senior players including Federico Fernandez, Fabian Schar, Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll are due to become free agents next month, and the Newcastle hierarchy will hold a series of discussions in the next few days to begin to start shaping next season’s squad.

Willock’s future will be at the front of their thoughts, with the 21-year-old having equalled a club record yesterday when he scored for the seventh Premier League game in succession.

Willock has been a revelation since joining on loan from Arsenal in January, but while his performances have been a key factor in Newcastle’s rise up the table, they have also made it much more difficult for the Magpies to agree a permanent deal for his services this summer.

Arsenal boss Mike Arteta has hinted he would like to keep Willock at the Emirates next term, while a number of other Premier League clubs are likely to be interested in striking a deal if the Gunners give the youngster permission to move on.

“If you watch Joe play, you can see that he’s been enjoying himself and the freedom he’s been given,” said Bruce. “I’ve answered the same way for the last three or four weeks – we would love to bring him back, but he’s Arsenal’s player. Let’s hope we can get something resolved.”