Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe has hailed the impact of Matt Ritchie this season, describing him as ‘integral’.
The Magpies ended the season with a 2-1 win over Burnley, with Callum Wilson scoring both goals. The result pushed Newcastle up to 11th, which is a remarkable finish given where we were at the start of the year.
Howe picked a strong side for the final game, but found time to give Ritchie the potential farewell appearance that we hoped for.
The 32-year-old replaced Miguel Almiron in the 89th minute, playing what could well be his final minutes in a black and white shirt.
Newcastle will reportedly listen to offers for multiple fringe players this summer, and that includes Ritchie.
Eddie Howe hails ‘unsung hero’ Matt Ritchie
After the game, Howe spoke to NUFC TV, and was asked about Ritchie’s role within the squad.
“Huge. What a personality and character he is,” Howe said.
“There’s so many unsung heroes in the group this season who’ve been, behind the scenes, so supportive of the lads that are playing, have been incredible in training, have set the culture for me.
“It’s so powerful when it’s the guys who aren’t playing regularly because they really control the mentality of the group. And Matty’s played his part.
“He showed his experience and managed that last part of the game for us very, very well. He’s been integral to our success.”
‘Integral’ Ritchie deserves Howe’s praise
It’s a testament to Ritchie’s character that Howe speaks so fondly of him. He’s a fringe player who hasn’t featured a lot since the change of manager, but has still managed to be influential.
Ritchie began the season in poor form, struggling at left wing-back. When Howe took over, Ritchie initially remained in the starting XI. However, he would lose his place after suffering COVID then picking up an injury.
We’ve barely seen him in 2022. He’s remained on the bench 11 times, making just two appearances as a substitute in the league. His only start this year came in the FA Cup embarrassment.
But he’s a valuable player off the pitch. Sean Longstaff recently spoke about what his teammate said ahead of the Arsenal game, and now Howe has branded him ‘integral’ to the club’s success.
However, this could be the end of the road for Ritchie. If that is the case, he’ll receive a fond farewell when the time comes.