Matt Ritchie is edging closer to a Newcastle United return after suffering a ‘strange’ injury.
The 32-year-old has missed the Magpies’ last three games, which all ended in wins against Leeds United, Everton and Aston Villa.
While head coach Eddie Howe mentioned before the Leeds visit that Ritchie had hurt his knee, no further details emerged.
The only update was Ritchie was a “longer-term” injury - but Howe has confirmed the former Bournemouth man is nearing a return.
‘It was a strange injury’ - Howe on Ritchie
Commenting on his ‘strange’ injury, Howe said: “I don’t think he is necessarily (out) longer-term.
“Matt’s in a good place. I don’t think he’s too far away from returning.
“It was a strange injury with Matt. He was just striking a ball and felt something in his knee.
“He’s had a period where he had to back right off and have minimal activity but he’s running again in a straight line and he’s stepping up closer to being back full-time with the group.
“I anticipate he won’t be too long.”
Where does Ritchie fit into Howe’s plans?
Previous head coach Steve Bruce deployed Ritchie as a left-wing back/ left-back last season and the start of this, which has continued under Howe.
But with the signing of Matt Targett on loan from Aston Villa and the return of Paul Dummett, Ritchie may find opportunities hard to come by. That’s not forgetting Javier Manquillo either but Kieran Trippier’s injury is likely to see him deputise at right-back.
Ritchie’s a winger by trade and is an excellent crosser of the ball but in the Premier League, the position requires pace, and that puts Allan Saint-Maximin, Ryan Fraser and arguably Miguel Almiron and Jacob Murphy ahead of him.
Regardless of his game time however, Ritchie is a big character in the dressing room, as Howe knows too well through their time at Bournemouth - a key reason why he was included in the 25-man squad ahead of Jamal Lewis for example.
Ritchie has a big part to play, as Newcastle found out when they surged to Premier League safety last term.