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Scotland international Matt Ritchie reveals how the signings of Kenedy, Martin Dubravka and Islam Slimani lifted Newcastle

Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie.
Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie.
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Matt Ritchie says the arrivals of Kenedy, Martin Dubravka and Islam Slimani raised the bar at Newcastle United – and that helped lift the club up the table.

Rafa Benitez’s side are 10th in the Premier League, and safe from the threat of relegation, ahead of tomorrow’s home game against basement club West Bromwich Albion.

Newcastle's Matt Ritchie gets in a shot against Manchester United earlier this season. Picture by Frank Reid

Newcastle's Matt Ritchie gets in a shot against Manchester United earlier this season. Picture by Frank Reid

Newcastle were 14th in the league when the three loan signings arrived on transfer deadline day in January.

Winger Kenedy and goalkeeper Dubravka made an immediate impact at the club.

Dubravka kept a clean sheet against Manchester United on his debut, while Kenedy has also impressed.

Striker Slimani has made three appearances since recovering from an injury.

There’s no better thing than bringing players in to add competition. If there’s a new player, you want respect from your peers, and it brings the levels up in training and brings the levels up on game day.

Matt Ritchie

Ritchie – who has scored in three of United’s last four home games – believes the extra competition raised the standards in training and in games.

“There’s no better thing than bringing players in to add competition – it makes everyone raise their game,” said the 28-year-old.

“Whether it’s a centre-half or a winger or a striker, it doesn’t matter.

“If there’s a new player, you want respect from your peers, and it brings the levels up in training and brings the levels up on game day.

“It just adds that extra bit, and I think it’s made a big difference.”

Ritchie joined relegated Newcastle in the summer 2016 from Bournemouth, who had had a successful first season in the Premier League.

The Scotland international was an influential figure in the club’s Championship-winning season.

And Ritchie, on the opposite flank to Kenedy, believes he’s improving year by year thanks to manager Benitez’s attention to detail.

“It’s been really good, really enjoyable, to see a different culture and see what that brings,” said the Gosport-born player.

“I’ve learnt a lot. The small details are very important.

“I always knew that, but I think he’s made me aware of details that maybe I wasn’t aware of.

“He’s been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed it. Hopefully, we can continue to have a successful season.”

Asked how Benitez differed from other managers, Ritchie said: “I don’t think you can say any manager’s similar. He’s not similar to anyone I’ve had.

“They all have their own different unique qualities. Obviously, his record speaks for itself.

“He has qualities, and it’s great to be able to dig into them, speak to him and learn from him.”

Meanwhile, United’s four-game winning run came to an end at Goodison Park on Monday night.

Everton won 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal from Theo Walcott.

Benitez believes the gameunderlined the division’s small margins.

“I think we have to be really pleased with the situation now,” said Benitez.

“It’s a pity to lose this game, but the target was to stay up. We are in the Premier League for the next season, and that’s the main thing.

“These kind of things give you the idea how much you have to improve if you want to stay at this level.”

* Newcastle United will compete in the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens in Hong Kong next month.

The club, which won the seven-a-side tournament in 2012, didn’t take part last year.

Defending champions Leicester City will be joined at Happy Valley by Aston Villa, West Ham United and Brighton and Hove Albion.

Newcastle are in Group C with Rangers, Hong Kong Football Club and Newcastle Jets.

Under-23 players Victor Fernandez, Daniel Barlaser, Callum Roberts and Luke Charman are likely to make Ben Dawson’s squad for the tournament.

Professional development phase coach Dawson said: “We are delighted to once again be invited to participate in the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.

“It is a great addition to our games programme, and provides our players with a fantastic opportunity to test themselves against a wide range of opponents in difficult conditions given the heat, humidity and format of play.

“In previous years, we have competed well to get to the latter stages of the competition and are obviously hoping that this year we can go even further.”

Newcastle’s Under-23s take on Morpeth Town in the Northumberland Senior Cup final at St James’s Park on May 2 (7.30pm kick-off).