Newcastle players focused on job in hand not transfer talk, says Matt Ritchie

Matt Ritchie celebrates his goal.
Matt Ritchie celebrates his goal.

Matt Ritchie insists Newcastle United players have remained focused on the job in hand despite the transfer tittle-tattle going on around them.

Ice-cold Ritchie kept his composure on Tuesday night to fire home the winning penalty that saw the Magpies defeat Premier League champions Manchester City 2-1 at St James's Park.

Ritchie slams home the penalty.

Ritchie slams home the penalty.

The winger had to put up with time-wasting tactics from City keeper Ederson before firing home, as well as manage the pressure of a vital kick in front of the home fans.

It was no different, Ritchie said, to blanking out talk of transfers, record signings and manager Rafa Benitez's future.

The build-up to the game had been dominated by talk that Benitez may quit after the transfer window closed, while two hours before kick-off, news broke that Newcastle had agreed a fee for Almiron.

Ritchie insists the players have to keep their focus, however, and ignore what is going on around them off the pitch.

“I try not to read the Press," he said. "For the players we need to stay focused on what we do, on what we can control.

"What everyone decides to write or say is up to them; it’s irrelevant to us. We need to focus on what we do and, if we perform the way we did against Man City more often, then we hopefully can build on this and be fine.

"It’s about togetherness and belief, and having that feeling and a positive vibe. Hopefully this gives everyone that hope we need and we can have a good feeling about the place.”

Ritchie's winner gave Newcastle breathing space at the bottom of the table, ahead of another tough game at Spurs on Saturday.

Having conceded to Sergio Aguero after just 24 seconds, United battled superbly before Salomon Rondon equalised on the hour mark, paving the way for Ritchie's crucial kick.

“I was just focused on making sure I tucked it away," he said. "I knew it was a massive moment and it could be such a huge moment in our season. There was huge pressure because everyone was relying on me, but I’m just so happy.

“I know that everyone was relying on me in that moment. But I believe in myself, and I put myself up for those because I believe, and I was just delighted to get the opportunity to take it.

"It’s not just about that though; I thought the performance was fantastic. To concede as early as we did and then to stay in the game like we did, then second half the way in which we defended - not just the back five, the whole team, from Rondon up front through to Ayoze (Perez), (Christian) Atsu, everyone. It was just unbelievable.

“I think the early goal was a blessing in disguise if I’m honest. My initial thought was: ‘Wow, this could be a long night.’ But as soon as they did score we settled a little and, although they had a lot of the ball, I think we got back into our shape, it wasn’t as tense and I’m just so pleased.

"It’s just three points though; even though it’s against the champions, it’s still just three points. We need to make sure we build on it and use it as a point from which we take hope and belief. Everyone around this place, especially when we got the equaliser, started to believe.

"The fans during the second half - that’s what we need week in, week out. And I know it’s down to the players to make the fans believe and performances at home haven’t been fantastic this season, but everyone in the stadium was brilliant.”

Newcastle now go to Wembley on Saturday with a spring in their step, and having beaten the champions, Ritchie says there is no reason why they can't be full of optimism when they take on a Spurs side without Dele Alli and Harry Kane.

“We believe in every game we go into," the Scotland international added. "Even the first 10 games of the season; we’ve had tough games, we’ve had tough opposition, but we’ve always been so close.

"Against Tottenham, Chelsea and Man City early in the season, all those big games and tough games we were so close, with only one goal in most of them.

"We believe, we have the mentality that we can win these games if we carry out the gameplan, and no matter who writes us off, we believe within this group.

"That’s the main thing, that’s the key thing. We’ll go to Tottenham and hopefully now there’ll be optimism.”