Matt Ritchie is ready, willing and able to throw himself into Newcastle’s fight on two fronts after finally returning from his injury nightmare.
The 30-year-old had not started a game since August 28, when he was left with a badly gashed ankle after a challenge by Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury, before Tuesday night’s FA Cup third-round replay against League One Rochdale at St James’ Park.
It took him little time to remind head coach Steve Bruce and his team-mates of what they had been missing when he provided the ammunition for the first two goals in a 4-1 win, and he is now looking forward to the battle to earn a regular place as the Magpies aim to secure their Premier League place and progress in the cup.
Ritchie said: “It was really good to be back out there. I am really pleased and enjoyed it.
“We’ve had a few results that have not been good, but we had a good first half to the season. We have put ourselves in a great position.
“The lads have done fantastically well and hopefully I can join in again and add something to the group. I want to look forward to a good second half of the season.”
Newcastle were left kicking themselves after the first game, in which they took an early lead but failed to kill it off, allowing substitute Aaron Wilbraham to level to earn Rochdale a trip to Tyneside.
However, by the time 20 minutes of the replay had elapsed, Ritchie had enticed defender Eoghan O’Connell to put through his own goal and crossed for Matty Longstaff to make it 2-0, and when Miguel Almiron scored his third goal in as many games six minutes later, it was effectively over.
There was still time for £40million striker Joelinton to end a 20-game drought when he struck eight minutes from time to seal a fourth-round showdown with another League One club, Oxford, before Jordan Williams pulled one back for the visitors.
Ritchie said: “I have been in the other dressing room and I know when you come away to Premier League clubs, it’s your cup final.
“We knew that and saw it when we went down there. It’s all about the first goal, but we took control of the game with the second.
“We didn’t really start the second half well as we’d like, but we’ve seen the game out.”
Newcastle’s attention will now turn to Saturday evening’s Premier League clash with Chelsea, with Bruce hoping Ritchie will be followed out of the treatment room by a few more of his walking wounded.
The midfielder said: “The manager said before the weekend that we have a lot of injuries, but some of them are either on their way back or not so long.
“We have people coming back into the group and we should all be back together.”
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