Steve Bruce has blamed Covid-19 for Newcastle's Premier League slide, insisting they "were doing very nicely" before the pandemic struck down a number of his players.
Newcastle were pushing for a top-half finish before an outbreak of coronavirus within the first-team squad in December, and have since been dragged into a tense relegation battle alongside the likes of Fulham, Brighton and Burnley.
Bruce says his team have yet to fully recover from that setback, with fresh injuries to key trio Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron adding to his selection issues ahead of a meeting with Aston Villa on Friday.
What's been said?
Bruce told a pre-match press conference of Newcastle's poor form in 2021: “We were doing very, very nicely until Covid.
“But it became a real big problem and now we are without three big players who we’ve spent a lot of money on.”
How many Newcastle players have been laid low with Covid-19?
More than a dozen first-team players tested positive for coronavirus over the festive period as the Magpies embarked on a miserable 11-match winless streak.
Jamal Lewis and Federico Fernandez were among those forced to quarantine for 10 days, while Saint-Maximin and Jamaal Lascelles were ruled out for extended periods after suffering longer-term effects from the virus.
Can the Magpies beat the drop?
Despite the fact that Newcastle have only won two of their last 18 games across all competitions, they still have their own destiny in their hands with 11 fixtures of the 2020-21 top-flight campaign remaining.
Bruce's side are one point clear of 18th-placed Fulham having played a game less, with West Brom and Sheffield United eight and 12 points from safety respectively.
Fulham are being tipped to haul themselves out of trouble after an impressive recent run, but Bruce has promised to do everything in his power to steer the Magpies to safety.
“There’s no doubt that Fulham have had a wonderful couple of weeks,” said Bruce. “But there are 11 games left, there’s a lot to play for and all the bottom six or seven teams are looking over their shoulders.
"There’s a long way to go but as I’ve said many, many, times, the buck stops with me. I will try everything I possibly can, with all the experience I’ve got, to make sure we stay here [in the Premier League].”