It’s been a very frustrating time for Matt Ritchie over the past few seasons at Newcastle. The 31-year-old has endured two seasons in which he’s missed a massive chunk due to a serious injury. He’s also had issues getting on the pitch after being an ever-present figure over his first three seasons on Tyneside.
Ritchie suffered a serious ankle injury early last season that kept him out for four months. Though he did return to play in all but 2 league games, 11 of which he started. However, this season has been quite different for the fiery winger.
It started with Ritchie being linked with a return to Bournemouth. The move never materialized but Ritchie was only on the bench during our first two league matches. Then Matt suffered a shoulder injury in his first league start which sidelined him for two months.
When he returned, he made 5 starts in December and January but Newcastle were in the midst of a torrid run. Steve Bruce refused to let Ritchie rejoin Bournemouth during the winter window and from mid-January to the 1-1 draw against Wolves, Ritchie didn’t get on the pitch for 8 matches.
Bruce brought Ritchie on as a substitute against Wolves. The head coach decided to switch the system and sent Matt on with instructions. However, Wolves quickly equalized soon after the change. After the match, Bruce unwisely blurted out that Ritchie hadn’t got his instructions on quick enough.
What happened in training the next week has been well documented as the two had a bust-up. Ritchie hadn’t made an appearance since until Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Tottenham where he put in a monstrous performance on the left.
Bruce brought Ritchie back in as he shifted to a 5-3-2. It worked wonders as both Ritchie and Jacob Murphy, playing on the right, got down the flanks to get balls into the box.
Ritchie has given an interview to NUFC TV today in which he was asked about Sunday’s draw and the rest of the season.
This was Ritchie’s response when asked if Sunday was a step forward:
“I think so. I think it was a good performance. Obviously, a change of system suited us against a very good team.
“It was a good performance and a point. Hopefully, it’s a good point.”
Newcastle did enough to win the match against a Spurs side who weren’t at their best. Except for the spell following Joelinton’s goal where Harry Kane grabbed two quick goals, Newcastle were in the ascendancy for much of the match.
Ritchie played a big part in both goals. For the first, he intercepted a poor pass from the back and got the ball to Sean Longstaff. The midfielder played a superb pass to Joelinton, who put it in the back of the net.
For the second, it was Ritchie’s deep cross that Joelinton headed back across the box which eventually Joe Willock blasted off the underside of the crossbar for the dramatic equalizer.
The overall performance was a stark cry for the one at Brighton just two weeks before. Ritchie was asked about the difference in mentality between the two matches but he preferred to concentrate on the positives from Spurs saying the following:
“They were different games. I don’t think you can compare them to one another.
“I think we played with intensity. What we did do well was we pressed and played with intensity when we had the ball. I thought we played with real purpose.”
It was Ritchie’s first start since early January. He benefitted from the change of system to include wing-backs. It’ll be very interesting to see if Bruce keeps with the formation this weekend.
Ritchie had the following response when asked about getting back into the team:
“Of course, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back in. Worked hard in training and lucky enough got back in the team.
“Now I have to try and keep my shirt and perform. It’s the business end of the season now so performances need to be high.
“Hopefully, we can pick up points.”
To continue to pick up points, Newcastle need to cut out the drastic dips in performances like at Brighton. This inconsistency has plagued the team this season. Ritchie said the following about keeping a certain standard:
“The bare minimum every week is to work hard, play with desire and the mentality to win the game.
“As we found out, in the Premier League if you don’t do that and don’t have the quality as well then you won’t get results. I don’t think that is in question with the lads. We give everything week in week out. We’ve fallen short with the results.
“Hopefully, as I say, it’s the business end of the season and we can pick up some points on the run in over the next few weeks.”
Next on the docket is a trip to Turf Moor to take on Burnley. Newcastle won the home fixture 3-1 in early October, which Ritchie missed with his shoulder injury. That match saw a brace from Callum Wilson and a goal from Allan Saint-Maximin.
Allan returned against Spurs to spark the late rally. However, Wilson’s availability for Sunday is still unclear as he’s just returned to full training this week. It would be some boost to slot Wilson back in the upfront.
Ritchie was finally asked about the mood this week after the positive result over the weekend. The performance seems to have given the squad a lift as they prepare for Burnley on Sunday.
Here is Ritchie’s response about the current mood in the team:
“Of course it’s good. The performance was good at the weekend.
“We now look towards Burnley who we know are a good team. They have their philosophy, have their style. We’ll look to implement our style on them.”