Matt Ritchie has spoken out about the prospect of playing former club Bournemouth on Saturday, admitting that it will be a ‘strange feeling’ to play against so many friends – but insists he’s focused on nothing other than taking three points for NUFC.
Following our relegation to the Championship around 18 months ago, Rafa convinced Ritchie to make a £12m move north and was considered quite a coup, swapping Premier League football with Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth for a drop down to the second tier with Newcastle.
A season on and there’s little doubt he has been one of, if not our most influential player since his arrival, with his constant work both on and off the ball being a big part of our promotion last season and solid start to life back in the top flight.
Here’s what he had to say about Saturday’s game, where he will be facing up against his old team for the first time since he made the move to Tyneside last summer:
“I’m looking forward to facing Bournemouth.
“It’ll be a strange feeling playing against some friends and people that I spent probably the best years of my life with,”
“We secured some fantastic achievements with that group of players and the manager and the staff. I had a brilliant time there.
“It’ll be strange to now be up against them but I’m a Newcastle player now and I want us to collect another three points at home.”
Ritchie then talks about the last time Bournemouth were at St James’ Park, which happened to be Steve McClaren’s last game in charge. A 3-1 defeat that Ritchie starred in for the visitors, however he is hoping that the game on Saturday goes very differently to how it did last time around:
“The last time they were at St James’ Park, I was in a Bournemouth shirt and we really made it difficult for Newcastle that day.
“This time around, I’m hoping it’s the opposite and we make life difficult for them and get the win we want.
“It’s about continuing our promising home form.”
After bagging 12 goals from midfield last season, Ritchie is frustrated not to have got on the scoresheet for far this term, admitting his is ‘chomping at the bit’ to start scoring goals in the top flight once again:
“I’m chomping at the bit to get a goal. I was unlucky against Crystal Palace. I tried to squeeze one through the defender’s legs but just got blocked off,”
“I’m happy so far with my assists, but individually we all need to improve, raise the bar and get better, and the same goes for the team.
“We simply have to keep improving.”
As he alludes to, he has four assists this season and with three of those four coming from set-pieces, he explains here just how hard he and the team have been working on them:
“I work extremely hard on them – and we’ve just got to keep working hard, practise and hopefully the boys on the set pieces, be it myself or Jonjo [Shelvey], can keep hitting good areas and it’s then down to the lads in the box to attack it,”
“So far, so good, and it’s been fantastic this season. The stats prove that set pieces are crucial, particularly in the Premier League, and thankfully we’ve been good at them so far – and it’s up to us to ensure we continue that.”
After unusually quiet games in his last two, hopefully Ritchie can be back to his best on Saturday – a big game to get us back on track after Monday’s deflating defeat at Burnley.