The only highlight of the tragic second half showing against Rochdale yesterday, was the long awaited return of Matt Ritchie, and boy do we need him!
Whilst he may have struggled to make an impact off the bench, in what was another on an ever growing list of FA Cup embarrassments for Newcastle United, Ritchie brings so much back to the table. Since the former Bournemouth man rose to prominence in a black and white shirt, I've always compared him to a dog that is the leader of his pack. Tenacious, energetic, and most of all, a leader.
Leadership, and a voice on the pitch is one of a number of things Newcastle have missed over the Christmas period, and within minutes of Ritchie entering the fray, he was barking and snarling at his team-mates; organising, leading. Over the past few weeks, the midfield has looked overrun, the shape of the team has looked all over the place at times, and the solid defense we'd become synonymous for, has developed an almighty leak. Of course injuries have taken their toll, but the unforgiving league table is only interested in points, not injuries. So we need a spark from somewhere to get us back on track.
Ritchie's return can enable this spark. With thirty minutes under his belt at Rochdale, and hopefully a weeks worth of unscathed training under his belt, its highly likely that Ritchie will be starting at Molineux against Wolves on Saturday. If he does, then in my opinion, he should be the one leading the team onto the pitch with the captain's armband on.
If Jetro Willems is fit for a return, I would be playing Ritchie in his previous role for the team, out on the right wing, allowing a seemingly disconsolate Joelinton to come out of the side, should Carroll be fit also! Since Ritchie was moved to wing-back last season, we have almost forgotten what a killer left foot he has. After our woeful crossing at Spotland, Andy Carroll, and even Joelinton should be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of getting on the end of the quality crosses Ritchie can provide. Even if Joelinton has to play this coming week, rest assured Ritchie will be foaming at our £40 million man to keep him on his toes, as the Brazilian really can't afford another showing where he appears uninterested for large parts of the game.
Should Ritchie be back at left wing-back, then he will undoubtedly have his work cut out against the electrifying pace of Adama Traore, who really is in excellent form at the moment. However, at thirty years of age, Ritchie reads the game well and will use his experience to hopefully keep him quiet and protect the returning Florian Lejuene, who mercifully, was taken out of the side yesterday to give him a much needed rest.
Hopefully Ritchie's return can coincide with Newcastle bringing in much needed re-reinforcements this month, as well as dragging themselves out of this mid-season rut they find themselves in. But one thing is for certain, there isn't a Newcastle fan out there who isn't pleased to see Matt Ritchie back.