Matt Ritchie on a ‘good omen’ for Newcastle – and a goal from the training ground

Dwight Gayle turns in Matt Ritchies cross for Newcastles opener
Dwight Gayle turns in Matt Ritchies cross for Newcastles opener

So far, so good.

That’s the verdict of Matt Ritchie after Newcastle United claimed the No 1 spot for Christmas.

Rafa Benitez’s side lead second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion by one point ahead of the Boxing Day fixture at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

Newcastle beat Burton Albion 2-1 on Saturday to ensure top spot on Christmas Day.

And Ritchie – who won promotion with Bournemouth the season before last – knows the team which leads the division over the festive period more often than not wins promotion to the Premier League.

“It’s fantastic that we’re top for Christmas,” said Ritchie.

Matt Ritchie celebrates with Dwight Gayle

Matt Ritchie celebrates with Dwight Gayle

“In the past it’s been a good omen.

“Most teams that are top at Christmas have gone on to get promoted. Hopefully, that can be us.

“Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to do.

“We need to continue the work we’ve put in so far. Hopefully, performances and results can stay the same.”

In the past it’s been a good omen. Most teams that are top at Christmas have gone on to get promoted. Hopefully, that can be us.

Matt Ritchie

Burton, however, made life tough for United at the Pirelli Stadium, where Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame were on target.

Newcastle had to scrap and fight for everything on a testing afternoon.

Burton quickly cancelled out Gayle’s 15th-minute opener.

Diame scored what would prove to be the winning goal later in the first half.

“The main thing is the three points, obviously,” said Ritchie, who set up Gayle’s goal with a superb run and cross.

“But they’re a good side. They’ve had some good results at home this season, and we knew that.

“We were ready for a tough game, and that’s exactly what we got.”

Asked if United had had to show their battling qualities at the compact stadium, the winger added: “For sure.

“We’ve beaten teams playing lovely football, but we ground it out and were resolute.

“We were compact and hard to beat.

“I think we showed we’ve got that in our locker as well.”

Ritchie broke up the left, beat his man and crossed for Gayle at the near post.

It was Gayle’s 17th goal of the campaign.

And the 27-year-old revealed after the match that it was a move straight from the training pitch.

“I was pleased to be involved in it,” said Ritchie, signed in the summer for £10million.

“We worked in the week on Dwighty getting across the front post.

“We were hoping to get some quality into him.

“Dwighty’s in great form, and he’s nicked in and turned it in.

“It was fantastic to get the first goal, but we were disappointed to concede.

“Mo scored another good goal, and hopefully we can continue with players in good form.”

Ritchie and his team-mates will recover from a gruelling few weeks during a welcome nine-day break from games.

“We’ve had a lot of games of late,” said the Scotland international.

“We’ve had three this week. It’ll take its toll.

“Recovery is key now. We’ll make sure we’re fresh for Boxing Day.

“It’s always a nice occasion, and hopefully we can win the game.”

Meanwhile, Burton manager Nigel Clough felt his team had deserved at least a point from the game.

“We set up in a certain way, and we wanted to get the ball forward. We played some good football.

“We don’t see it as points dropped, as we don’t expect to get anything from the Newcastles of this world, so we see it as a boost having seen the level of performance.

“We also had a clear penalty on John Brayford in the 94th minute.

“He’s been hauled to the ground.”