Matt Ritchie says Rafa Benitez has turned Newcastle United into a “fight” club.
Benitez’s team are now seven points clear of the Premier League’s relegation zone.
Last year was mission complete, job done for the Championship. Obviously, the manager stayed to get us back in the Premier League, and that happened. That was great. This season has been a different test.Matt Ritchie
Newcastle beat Huddersfield Town 1-0 at the weekend to move up to 12th place ahead of Saturday’s game against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Ritchie and his team-mates know that one more win could be enough to secure the club’s top-flight status for another season.
And Ritchie believes it’s the players’ willingness to compete for every ball that has given them the edge over a number of other teams in the bottom half of the table.
“Outside the top six, I think there’s four or five clubs you look at and think they’ve got too much to go down, but for the rest, it’s a fight,” said the 27-year-old.
“You have to win the fight before you start to play.
“I think the Southampton game (which Newcastle won 3-0) was a good team performance. We pressed, we were energetic and we sort of won the battle and then in the latter stages of the game you saw that we could play as well.
“It’s a tough, tough league, as everyone knows. It’s the best league in the world. It’s that for a reason, and it’s not going to be easy.”
Ritchie made the difficult decision to leave Premier League club Bournemouth in the summer of 2016 and join relegated United in the Championship.
The Scotland international scored 12 league goals last season as Newcastle won the league – and he’s been an influential figure on and off the field this season.
For his part, Ritchie’s just keen to get the club closer to 40 points.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Ritchie.
“Last year was mission complete, job done for the Championship. Obviously, the manager stayed to get us back in the Premier League, and that happened. That was great.
“This season has been a different test, a completely different test, where we went from being the favourites to the underdogs.
“You have to react differently to weekends. You get beat on a Saturday sometimes in the Premier League, obviously, when you’re used to winning.
“Everything changes. Your mentality changes in terms of how you deal with a defeat and how you deal with setbacks. That’s been the biggest test this season.
“We’ve actually done it quite well, as I think we’ve not actually been beaten a few games on the bounce.
“So we’ve rose to that challenge, and it’s now in a position where it’s in our hands, and hopefully we can continue to win games, collect points and be fine.”