Newcastle manager Steve Bruce fears it is 'inevitable' that coronavirus will force games to be played behind closed doors

Magpies chief says it only a matter of time before England follows in footsteps of Italy and introduces ban on supporters at grounds

Soccer Football - FA Cup Fifth Round - West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United - The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, Britain - March 3, 2020  Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce  Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce says it is "pretty inevitable" that Premier League games will be played behind closed doors as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The authorities in Italy have introduced a ban on mass gatherings which has hit sports events, and Bruce believes it is only a matter of time before the same happens in the UK.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Premier League match at Southampton, Bruce said: "It's hard to imagine, isn't it? But obviously, they're doing it now in Italy and it's something we're probably going to face.

"We all know football is a way out for everybody, but peoples' lives are at stake and we've got to go by the authorities. But it looks pretty inevitable that could be on the cards."

All Serie A games will be played behind closed doors for the next month, while Italy's Six Nations matches against Ireland and England have been postponed until later in the year.

Premier League leaders Liverpool have announced a raft of measures, including a decision not to use on-pitch mascots at games, aimed at protecting staff and spectators.

In addition, the Premier League and English Football League have both abandoned the traditional fair play handshake before matches until further notice on medical advice.

Bruce, Meanwhile, has received a boost with the news that midfield pair Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie have both signed new three-year contracts.

The Magpies have announced midfielder Shelvey, 28, and winger Ritchie, 30, will remain at St. James' Park until the summer of 2023.

Shelvey told NUFC TV: "It feels like a home. The people here, ever since I came to the club, have made me feel so welcome.

"I've had some good times and some bad times here, but it's mainly good and it's just an enjoyable place to come in and work – and the city in general has been really good for me."

Shelvey, Newcastle's leading scorer in the Premier League this season with five goals, has made 130 appearances for the club in all competitions since joining from Swansea for a reported fee of £12 million (Dh57.3m) in January 2016.

Soccer Football - FA Cup Fifth Round - West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United - The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, Britain - March 3, 2020  Newcastle fans celebrate at the end of the match   Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Scotland winger Ritchie also signed for the Magpies for a reported £12m, in the summer of 2016, and has scored 22 goals in 139 appearances in all competitions.

He said: "Since I came to the club, it's been a successful period and one that I want to continue being involved in. Hopefully I can be part of the future."

Bruce, whose team will take on Manchester City in the quarter-final of the FA Cup after beating West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, said. "As I've said many many times to everybody, the nucleus of the team that got out of the Championship and is still playing well today is still here, the core group of them, and these two have been instrumental in it," he said.

"We all know what Ritchie is like, the way he is – there's never a dull day – and Jonjo, on his day, we all know is a very, very talented footballer. Let's hope now we can get another two or three others done as well."

Gallery: Newcastle beat West Brom in FA Cup

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