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
Will Newcastle United finally give Adam Armstrong his chance next season?
Adam Armstrong is currently in great form on loan at Blackburn Rovers.
Earlier this month, Blackburn Rovers forward Adam Armstrong was handed the League One Player of the Month award for February.
The England youth international, on loan from Newcastle United, thoroughly deserved the award, scoring four goals and bagging one assist in the same month he turned 21.
It was exactly the spell he needed to remind Toon supporters just how talented he is.
Armstrong, whose current record with Blackburn is seven goals in 12 games, was once considered the club’s most precocious talent.
It is now four years since Armstrong became the club’s second youngest player in Premier League history, when he replaced Luuk de Jong against Fulham.
However, the then 17-year-old has not progressed how he would have wanted at his parent club
Despite scoring 20 goals in 40 games for Coventry City in League One, back in 2015-16, he struggled to at subsequent loan spells with Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers.
Now, however, he looks back to his best. So should Newcastle finally pull the trigger on the striker next season?
Armstrong, who helped England to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup crown, is now 21 years of age and chomping at the bit to get first-team action at St James Park.
Newcastle United fans would love to see Armstrong feature in the first team. After all, the youngster is one of their own and clearly an immense talent.
If given the chance, and some playing time, he could hopefully translate his form with Blackburn to St James’ Park next season.
Not many youngsters have come through the ranks at Newcastle recently and Armstrong was always expected to be the next big star out the academy.
Hopefully, his excellent half of the season at Blackburn ends in promotion and further opportunities at the club he has supported since he was a little boy.
Victor Fernandez furthers Newcastle United first-team claims on Spain tour
The 19-year-old impressed as he featured against Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp.
Newcastle United recently travelled to Spain for a training camp as they attempted to deal with three weeks without a competitive fixture.
Rafa Benitez is an experienced manager and he will have realised the danger that such a gap could pose for his team, especially when it came to the fitness of the squad.
He arranged a training camp in his homeland, which culminated in a unique 135-minute match against Belgian side Royal Antwerp.
It consisted of three periods of 45-minutes, which allowed the manager to give playing time to the fringe players in his squad ahead of the run-in.
Although it gave the opportunity to experiment, only two youth players made the trip to Spain.
Nathan Harker was the back-up goalkeeper as both Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow were struggling with injuries.
The other, Victor Fernandez, caught the eye of Newcastle supporters watching.
Fernandez will be encouraged about further involvement with the first-team, as he was the only young outfield player to feature against Royal Antwerp.
That is a sign that Benitez considers the 19-year-old as one of the best prospects currently with the club.
The Spaniard joined the club just over a year ago from UE Cornella.
The signing went under the radar, but Benitez has an extensive scouting network and he obviously saw something in Fernandez.
Although he is predominantly a winger, he can play anywhere across the front-line is required.
Soon after joining the club, he spoke of not wanting to aim for too much too early when talking to the Newcastle United official club website:
“My purpose was not to make an impact really quickly, because I’m new and I have to get used to English football – it’s really different from Spain. I hope, little by little, I can keep doing good things here.”
Considering this was very quickly after his move to a new country, Fernandez’s words show maturity and show a glimpse into his character.
Benitez is a thorough manager who likes to know everything about the players that he brings to a football club.
There must have been something about the Spanish winger that made the Newcastle manager believe that he could adapt to English football.
There are no guarantees in football when it comes to young players fulfilling their potential.
However, the fact that Fernandez was taken on the mid-season tour to Spain suggests that he is on the right path.
He would have been offered guarantees about a route to the first-team squad and his involvement against Royal Antwerp will have been a reward for his progression since moving to St James’ Park.
He came on for the final 45-minutes and showed flashes of his ability.
There was some nice interplay with Dwight Gayle that resulted in the teenager having a shot on goal.
His trickery and direct style caused problems for his marker and he continued to excite those watching when the ball was his feet.
There is more developing for him to do before he is ready for the first-team in competitive action, but his performance against Antwerp was a positive one.
There is clearly talent there and he will be a player to follow over the coming seasons.
Newcastle are at the early stage of their development under Rafa Benitez and that will mean opportunities are there for young players.
Fernandez could have the ability to take his.
Paul Dummett’s Wales snub will please Newcastle United fans
The Welshman turned down an international call-up this week.
Paul Dummett has been one of the standout players for Newcastle United this season and his performances haven’t passed Ryan Giggs by.
The new Wales National Team manager has admitted that he has spoken to the left-back with a view to a return to the squad. The Chronicle reported the following quotes:
“I had a conversation with Paul Dummett, because he hasn’t been in the last few squads, and he just felt that it wasn’t the right time to come back.
“He wanted to concentrate on his Newcastle career which I have to respect, and we move on.
“He (Dummett) said that he wanted to concentrate on Newcastle’s relegation fight so I have to respect that at the moment. In the future we will wait and see.”
That will be music to the ears of Newcastle supporters and Rafa Benitez, as Dummett has emerged as a key player for the team since his return from injury.
This season in the Premier League, the Magpies have conceded only 13 times in the 12 matches that the 26-year-old has started.
That underlines how effective he has been and his importance to the team’s chances of staying in the top-flight.
Although he may not be the most exciting player to watch, Dummett is very good at carrying out a role for the team and it is no surprise that he has become one of Benitez’s most trusted lieutenants.
The Spanish manager enjoys to coach players that listen and carry out his instructions to the letter and his left-back certainly fits under that description.
A quick look at the stats shows how rounded Dummett is as a defender.
He averages 2.83 ball recoveries, 0.78 blocks and 6.85 clearances per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he is very good in the air as shown by his aerial duels win rate of 57.41%.
He was once a scapegoat for Newcastle supporters and the focus of anger when things weren’t going well. The reason for that was his lack of technical skill, which would make him stand out on the pitch.
However, that side of his game has developed and he is now serviceable in possession. Dummett isn’t going to be cutting sides open with his attacking threat down the left, but he understands his own limitations and that has seen him improve as a player.
The 26-year-old has been part of Wales squads in the past, but he has only played once for his country and his lack of game-time may be a reason why he stepped away from the international arena.
Last summer, Newcastle issued a statement to explain why Dummett withdrew from the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Serbia, which featured the following quote:
“After a gruelling campaign with the Magpies, in which he played through the pain barrier on several occasions, 25-year-old Dummett is keen to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family and friends in order to ensure he is at peak form and fitness for his hometown team’s return to the Premier League and what promises to be a big campaign for both him and the club.
“He has been supported in his decision by Newcastle boss Rafa Benítez.
“However, Dummett – who has represented his country from youth level all the way to the senior team – has not closed the door on his international career and hopes to represent the Dragons again in the future.”
It is clear that Newcastle is the priority for Dummett, but it is interesting that he refused to close the door on Wales last summer.
A managerial change since then may lead to further opportunities for the left-back and it is easy to see why Giggs has already reached out to him.
The Newcastle full-back has developed into a Premier League calibre player under Benitez and he will offer an upgrade on the options currently in the Wales squad.
For him, as a player, it may be beneficial to play international football and gain experience at the highest level. Although he didn’t agree to come back at this time, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t return to the fold in the near future. Both parties would benefit from that.
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