Steve Bruce may be left with only one option at left-back for when Newcastle United host Southampton on Saturday, with Jamal Lewis and Paul Dummett both doubts through injury.
The Toon boss has confirmed concerns over the full-backs’ fitness ahead of this weekend’s Premier League meeting, when he may also be without three centre-halves.
Federico Fernandez and skipper Jamaal Lascelles are both confirmed as being out for the Saints’ trip to St. James’ Park, while Ciaran Clark has left Bruce in the lurch after his wife went into labour.
Bruce faces a fraught task to keep United’s run over the St. Mary’s natives going with a large group of key players potentially missing, and accepts the situation is alarming.
“Defensively, it’s a concern,” Bruce said. “Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez will not make it. Ciaran Clark’s partner has gone into labour, so we’re hoping he’ll still make it.
“We have a worry to Jamal Lewis, who has a hamstring problem, and Paul Dummett is still struggling. So that defensive part of the team is a bit depleted at the minute.”
Lewis has started 16 of his 19 Premier League appearances for Newcastle since a £15m transfer from Norwich City last summer, and achieved his first assist in black and white during the Magpies’ 2-0 win over Everton last month.
Lewis and Dummett both failing late fitness tests and being ruled out for the visit of Southampton to St. James’ Park on Saturday will likely leave Matt Ritchie as Bruce’s only option to solve his injury woes at left-back.
Ritchie remained in the North East after Monday’s Deadline Day after seeing Newcastle and AFC Bournemouth fail to agree on a fee for his return to the Vitality Stadium, after last-ditch efforts were made by the Championship side as they seek an immediate return to the Premier League.
The former Scotland international has been frozen out of the first-team picture at United in recent weeks, with Bruce omitting Ritchie from his last two top-flight matchday squads and leaving the 31-year-old as an unused substitute in the prior three fixtures.
Ritchie last opened a league game on January 3 in defeat to Leicester City but should not be disregarded as a threat ahead of the Saints clash, having offered close to twice as many key passes a game as Lewis when fielded at left-back this term.
While Lewis has contributed 0.8 key balls a game over his league outings, Ritchie offered 1.5 and delivered 2.0 accurate crosses from 6.5 attempts to his 23-year-old teammate’s 0.8 from 2.6, per WhoScored.
He further broke up opposition play with more interceptions (0.8 to 0.6), made vastly more clearances (3.5 to 1.6), took more shots (0.3 to 0.1) and was stronger at winning possession in the air with 1.8 aerial duels won to 0.6.
But where Lewis eclipses Ritchie is in bringing possession out form the back, with 0.6 successful dribbles from 1.3 attempts to his experienced teammate’s record of 0.5 failed runs from 0.5 attempts a game.
Bruce should not let that sway his view of Ritchie, though, as even if it is not through choice that the £8.5m-rated man is recalled, he should be able to do more than an adequate job for Newcastle against Southampton on Saturday.