Newcastle United managed to beat Huddersfield Town on Saturday to move eleven points clear of the third-placed team in the process. It has been a huge week for Rafa Benitez’s side as they have consolidated their position at the top of the league. Although there is still a lot of football to go, it would take a significant turn of events for the Magpies to miss out on promotion from this position. They delivered a hard-working performance at the John Smith’s Stadium and deserved the three points, despite the hosts having more possession and shots on goal.
There were a number of Newcastle players that deserve credit for their performance, but it was Matt Ritchie that stood out. He has taken his game to a new level in recent weeks and is proving himself to be the big match player that the club thought they were buying in the summer. As well as being one of the most talented players at the club, the Scotland international is a leader and he has a major role to play in ensuring the team maintain a good shape and work tirelessly on the pitch. He certainly leads by example and his influence was evident on Saturday.
Although Ritchie’s attacking contribution was limited by the tactical set-up of the Newcastle team, he took the only opportunity that came his way. He scored the penalty to open the scoring, maintaining his 100% record from the spot at a Magpies’ player. The 27-year-old has proven himself to be a reliable penalty taker and there was no doubt that he would find the back of the net on Saturday. That took his tally for the season to nine Championship goals and he will be hoping to add to that over the coming weeks. He hasn’t managed to match his unbelievable attacking contribution to Bournemouth’s promotion, but he has played an equally as important role at St James’ Park.
In terms of defending, Ritchie played his part in helping Newcastle to a crucial three points. Huddersfield managed to dominate possession with 76%, but they didn’t really create one clear-cut opportunity. This was a result of the organisation of the visitors and the right winger played a key part in maintaining that. He completed one tackle and four clearances. The latter stat was important as he continually relieved pressure on his team-mates and often got good distance on his clearances.
The 27-year-old’s most important contribution was his leadership and tactical knowledge on the pitch. He wasn’t once found out of position and supported his team-mates to ensure none of them lost concentration. It is always difficult to win matches in which the opposition team dominates possession, but Newcastle remained focused and figures such as Ritchie, Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark played a huge part in that. As a character, the former Bournemouth winger is great to have around the dressing room and it is in big matches such as these that he plays his best football. It was also encouraging that he avoided a booking, as he remains one away from a suspension.
It was a significant day in Newcastle’s promotion push with every single player contributing to the win. However, it was Ritchie that stood out most of all. Despite his stats being underwhelming, he played a vital role and anybody who watched the game could testify to that. He has come to the fore in recent weeks and will be going back into the Premier League as a better player if Newcastle clinch promotion as expected. His experience will be vital as the Magpies attempt to win the Championship and he could get even better before the end of the season.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Matthew McNulty