Matt Ritchie says rivals should fear Newcastle
Newcastle United fear no one heading into the business end of the Championship season, according to Matt Ritchie.
The Scotland international insists it is the club’s second tier rivals who should be worried about the Magpies’ return to home form.
United narrowly edged out relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic at St James’s Park, with Ritchie popping up with the winner in the second period.
It was Rafa Benitez’s men’s first victory in four league games, and broke a six-week three-point drought on Tyneside, too.
And Ritchie believes it all bodes well for Wednesday night, when lowly Burton Albion are the latest to try their luck at SJP.
“We’re the most important thing – we’re top of the league, we’re leading and others teams need to fear us,” said a confident Ritchie after the 2-1 win.
“We need to be confident we can continue with the work we’ve done so far and finish the job off.
“It wasn’t the best performance in the world but it’s three points and we move on to Wednesday.
“We are where we are, there’s now seven games to go and we need to stay on top of this mini league that the manager is talking about.”
The Magpies players were already in the changing room checking their phones for results elsewhere by the time the final whistle was blown at promotion rivals Brighton and Huddersfield.
And while Chris Hughton’s men kept up the heat with a hard-fought victory over Blackburn at the Amex, a 96th-minute winner from Jackson Irvine saw Wednesday’s opponents Burton complete a dramatic win over the Terriers.
That result saw United stretch 10 points clear of their rivals, and all but seal their place in the division’s top two, barring a miracle in West Yorkshire.
When asked about results elsewhere Ritchie said the dressing-room prefers to concentrate on their own job at hand.
And he thinks that the pressure won’t go away.
“Obviously you’re aware of it. It’s everywhere so you can’t really miss it,” he said of the battle at the top of the league.
“But at the end of the day we just need to continue concentrating on us.
“Brighton, to a certain extent, were one of the favourites to go up at the start of the season so they’ll have had expectations too.
“Even if it’s not from everyone around, clubs within have their own expectations of themselves.
“The pressure is always there.”
Apart from Ritchie’s winner and Dwight Gayle’s first home goal since December, a major flashpoint in the encounter was a penalty call in the second period.
Ritchie appeared to be felled by Jake Buxton with the match finely poised late on.
But instead of pointing to the spot, referee David Coote was not interested.
Ritchie, who was adamant he was clipped, thinks it might have been his theatrical dive that fooled the man in the middle.
“You can’t say too much as players now, but it’s a stone-wall penalty for me,” he said.
“My fall to the ground probably didn’t help.
“It was probably a little bit theatrical if that’s the word for it.
“I maybe should have just fallen naturally but it’s still a stone-wall penalty.”
On United’s performance, he continued: “The first goal was important.
“We’ve struggled to break teams down.
“Teams come here and play five at the back, and it’s not always easy to find a way through.
“When you do get the first goal then teams have to open up a little bit and it was pleasing when Dwight scored.
“Obviously they equalised, so it was good that we scored the second in quick succession of theirs really because it settled everyone in the stands and on the pitch as well.”