Newcastle manager Steve Bruce will be cautious over asking too much too soon from fit-again striker Andy Carroll.
The 30-year-old made a welcome first Premier League start of the season following his latest setback to help the Magpies record a 2-0 win at Sheffield United on Thursday night.
Bruce will carefully manage the squad over some six games during December.
Carroll – who rejoined his old club after leaving West Ham in the summer – could be taken out of the frontline for Sunday’s visit of Southampton.
“Andy can be hugely important. We need to make sure we look after him,” the Newcastle boss said.
“He had been performing in training for the past four or five weeks before he unfortunately nicked a little rib muscle, which is always painful. When that was okay, he was ready to go.
“Andy has a physicality and a presence about him. He is also a very, very good player when he is right and he gives everybody a lift.
“He will be a big asset to us if he stays well and that is the big thing for me and the medical staff, to keep him right because if he is right, then he will be a handful for anybody.”
Bruce will make a late decision on whether to give Carroll a breather against the Saints and deploy £40million Brazilian Joelinton instead.
“We will see how Andy recovers and assess him on Saturday,” Bruce said. “It might be asking too much, but I will see how he is.”
Following a testing start to his new job, Bruce has overseen steady progress as Newcastle move up the table, with four wins from the last eight.
Bruce feels it has been a collective effort, on and off the pitch.
“The most important thing is trying to recreate a spirit in the working environment,” he said.
“From the press lads to the caretakers, to the cleaners and to the chefs. I want everybody concerned to come into work and enjoy coming into work, that goes for the players too.
“Since I came through the door we have had one or two poor performances, but all in all I couldn’t have asked for much more from the players.
Bruce added: “When you get some results against the big teams, then they are prepared to run a million miles and cover the distances that they have covered.
“They have bought into what we are trying to do. There is still a lot more to do, but we will keep working on things.”
Bruce feels the clash against an improving Southampton is “arguably our biggest” of the campaign so far.
“We have a good opportunity in the coming matches, playing teams who are in and around us, with four of the next six at home, so it is a wonderful opportunity,” he said.
“But when I look through Southampton’s squad, they have some very good players – so it is a hard challenge again.”
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