Steve Bruce reckons it's an “insult” to claim his Newcastle players have been lucky this season.

The Toon boss has come out fighting after growing criticism of his side who face a “pivotal” FA Cup clash at Oxford on Tuesday night.

They have amassed 31 points towards Premier League survival and will be in the FA Cup fifth round for the first time in 14 years if their win at the Kassam Stadium.

But two goalless draws at home to Norwich and Oxford have seen Bruce's playing style examined, amid suggestions they have squeezed out a host of undeserved results, including several late goals.

Steve Bruce insists the only way is up if Newcastle stay in the Premier League this season and invest in better quality players

Under Rafa Benitez last season, playing three centre backs was widely seen as pragmatism and getting the best out of the squad.

But Bruce has found himself under-fire for doing the same because of lack of possession, shots on target and goals.

Bruce said: “I can't see that the accumulation of points we've made over the last six month of the Premier League is luck. I think that's an insult to the players, I really, really do.

“We’ve had a bad week, and this is the frustration at Newcastle.... all of a sudden, it’s a storm, because we’ve had two back-to-back goalless draws. This is what we can’t quell.

“Are we lucky? After six months of games? I think that is unfair on them. Yes we can pass the ball better. Yes, we can play better. We didn't play well enough against Norwich. Why the big debate?

“Are we that entitled to pass Norwich off the pitch?

“Do you think I tell them: as soon as you get it lads, give it them back. Pass it to a green and yellow shirt? Do you really really, really, really believe that is me?

“We have not got enough quality to pass the ball around better.”

Rafa Benitez was hugely popular in Newcastle. Was he judged by different standards to Bruce?

Bruce says the Toon “couldn't win a corner” until they went three at the back under Benitez, and he has persisted with the formation because it suits his squad best.

"It's all about keeping the club where we need to be. I could change and play like Norwich just like that. But I think if we changed to four at the back we'd be in trouble.

“I think the players we've got are comfortable in the system we've got. We didn't play well against Norwich because we didn't do enough with the ball, we didn't create enough problems for them.

“I thought we played really well against Wolves, for example. We caused Man U all sorts of problems in the first half. So it ain’t all doom and gloom.”

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Bruce wants to “evolve” the Geordies, “go to a back four and play two up top” but added: “I could just change us tomorrow and say, 'Okay, there we go' and be relegated I don't think we're ready for change just yet.”

Playing Oxford will be a test that Bruce and his side need to pass. If they do it will have been a productive start to the campaign.