Matt Ritchie stole the show for Newcastle United with a standout box-to-box performance to help Steve Bruce’s men defeat West Ham 3-2 on Saturday afternoon.
The Hammers’ visit to St James’ Park offered the Magpies a great chance to cement their survival hopes after beating Burnley last week and relegation rivals Fulham not returning to action until a trip to Arsenal on Sunday.
An own goal from Issa Diop and a tap-in from Joelinton seemed set to give Newcastle three valuable points until a second half comeback saw 10-man West Ham draw level, only for Joe Willock to come off the bench and head a late winner for the home side.
Willock’s third goal since a deadline day move to St James’ Park on loan from Arsenal in February sealed the rewards of an impressive team performance from Newcastle, who reaped the rewards of a lively display from Allan Saint-Maximin throughout the first half.
The Frenchman, making his first start in six games after returning from a groin injury at Burnley, created chances galore with every venture forward into Irons territory, dancing his way between opposing defenders and testing Lukasz Fabianski.
No player was able to turn home one of the 24-year-old’s game-high five key passes before being replaced by Callum Wilson early in the second period, but Saint-Maximin made his presence count by creating the opener.
Saint-Maximin latched onto possession near the halfway line as referee Kevin Friend played advantage after Craig Dawson fouled Joelinton for his second yellow card, accelerating into the box before drilling a low effort goal bound.
Fabianski made the initial save but a lack of communication from Diop saw the French centre-half ricochet the ball in-off his Polish teammate.
Joelinton would soon tap in his second goal in three games before West Ham mounted a second half comeback, only to be denied a point when Willock met Ritchie’s sublime cross to send his header into the back of the net.
Ritchie’s delivery capped off a super Saturday for the £3.5m-rated dynamo, who offered Newcastle plenty of width and support at both ends of the field to move up to 15th and open a nine-point lead over the Premier League’s bottom three.
Only Saint-Maximin (five) – who Bruce has previously lauded for being the Toon’s “most creative player” – and Miguel Almiron (three) created more goalscoring chances for Newcastle than Ritchie (two key passes), who additionally delivered a team-high four crosses, per SofaScore.
His willingness to push forward failed to prevent Ritchie from helping to thwart the Champions League-chasing West Ham, with the 31-year-old additionally offering three clearances – only Ciaran Clark (10) and Federico Fernandez (seven) made more for the Magpies.
Bruce’s decision to recall Ritchie to the starting line-up for the first time since January when United hosted Tottenham earlier this month now appears a stroke of genius, with the St James’ Park natives claiming seven of a possible nine points since.
The Toon boss will hope to see that run of form continue after claiming Newcastle’s first back-to-back Premier League wins since December and for only the second time this season, with much of the credit going to Ritchie after his hard-working, steely determination stole the show against West Ham.