Matt Ritchie scored the goal that secured Newcastle United’s Premier League status – but he’s not finished yet.
Ritchie’s winner against Arsenal at St James’s Park on Sunday took the club past Rafa Benitez’s 40-point target.
The result, 10th-placed Newcastle’s fourth successive victory, moved the club to within two points of Monday night’s opponents Everton.
Ritchie netted in the 68th minute after Ayoze Perez flicked the ball to him in space.
“It’s the best feeling in the world scoring a goal,” said Ritchie, who has scored in three of the club’s last four home games.
“It’s obviously a proud moment for myself but also the team. To score an important goal and help the team is a fantastic feeling.
We need to keep the city happy. It’s a fantastic stadium and fantastic place to play. The good feeling about the stadium, we need to continue that.Matt Ritchie
“To have a significant role in three points is very good, and I’m delighted for that.
“Most importantly, as a team, we’ve put ourselves in a fantastic position where, if we apply ourselves as we have done over the last six weeks, we’ve got a real good opportunity of finishing in the top 10.
“That’s down to us now. We need to continue to perform as we have done.”
Early last month Benitez’s side found themselves in 16th place and on 29 points after a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
United now have five games in which to consolidate their position in the top half of the table.
“Forty points at the start of the season was sort of the target that everyone looks for,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s a credit to everyone involved throughout the whole season.
“Even when results weren’t quite going our way, we were never rolled over or went down without a fight. It’s always been one-goal margins.
“We’ve been on the right side of those one-goal margins in the last six weeks or so. It’s been a really good time.
“Hopefully, we can continue that throughout the rest of the games. It’s been a really good feeling.”
Ritchie, signed from Bournemouth in 2016, was an influential player in the Championship last season.
The Scotland international scored 12 league goals in 2016-17, though he had to wait until February for his first goal this season.
Ritchie feels that the “small details” Benitez has worked in training on are making a big difference to him and his team-mates.
“He’s definitely improved me, yes,” said Ritchie. “There are small details with different managers that you take on board.
“Every manager’s got different ideas and ways of playing, but there are details in my game that I didn’t have when I arrived.
“Definitely off the ball, I think, and more so as a team. You see when we haven’t got the ball we’re so compact and hard to break down.
“We’re always hard to beat. We’ve never been rolled over, not once this season. We’ve always lost games by very small margins. We’ve always been in games. I think that’s very important at this level.”
Is the club now on the up?
“There’s a good feeling,” said Ritchie. “We need to continue that. We need to keep the city happy. It’s a fantastic stadium and fantastic place to play. The good feeling about the stadium, we need to continue that.”