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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Newcastle United

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to record a first home win against Newcastle in the Premier League when they meet the Toon Army at Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

Ahead of the game, afcb.co.uk caught up with Matthew Raisbeck, the BBC’s Newcastle United commentator.

afcbco.uk: What do you think has been behind the recent turnaround in fortunes for Newcastle?

Matthew: There have been a few things that have led to Newcastle improving their form, their results and their position in the table so I don’t think it’s just one thing.

You would probably look at the arrival in January of Miguel Almiron as playing a part because he gave the fans a lift and the way he has performed in just a handful of matches has made a big difference.

He gives them a different dimension with his pace, his trickery and the fact he creates a lot of chances for other players and they have started to take some of those. He has made a major impact.

But they had started to get a few good results before he arrived. I think it was partly with players coming back from injury such as Florian Lejeune, who has been the left-sided defender in a back three. He has been excellent so he’s made a difference at that end of the pitch.

Once you get one or two positive results, confidence returns and that is a big thing. They are playing with a lot of confidence now because they know they can beat teams and have got themselves into a position where they are nearly safe.

afcb.co.uk: Newcastle have managed five wins on the trot at home but no away win for almost three months – can you put your finger on why?

Matthew: At the start of the season, Newcastle were picking up points away from home because they were well organised, compact and defending in a way that the manager had asked them.

There were very few errors and mistakes and that was maybe at the expense of their home form and results.

They were set up so well away from home that sometimes at St James’ Park you didn’t really know how they were going to go about it because there is more of an onus on them at home to be more attacking. That seems to have turned around now. I’m not really sure why to be honest.

They are being more positive and playing better at home but, away from home, they haven’t really done a great deal wrong.

They drew at Wolves where they conceded a very controversial goal for a number of reasons in the last minute. They should have won there.

They were looking good for a point at Spurs but the goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka, who has been excellent, made an error and they lost 1-0.

They played well at Chelsea but lost narrowly so I don’t think they have been too far away.

But it is interesting how it’s turned around and now it’s the home form that has propelled them up the table whereas, in the first-half of the season, the away form was much better. 

afcb.co.uk: How has Matt Ritchie performed this season?

Matthew: The supporters have huge respect for Matt Ritchie, as do his teammates. He goes about everything in the right way with commitment, desire, hunger and a fantastic attitude to do his job on the pitch to the very best. More often than not, he does a brilliant job for the team.

He’s been one of the most important signings in the past few years at Newcastle and definitely one of Rafael Benitez’s best signings.

This season, he has had to learn (if I can say that) a new position because he’s been playing left wing-back for the past few months as part of a back five.

Defensively, there are some new challenges for him and I suppose that detracts from his good work in the attacking third of the pitch. But he has performed very well.

He scored the winning penalty against Manchester City which Newcastle supporters will never forget.

Although he had a penalty saved against Everton last week – the first one he had missed – he still did an important job for the team in the second half when he played a bit further forward.

He is very popular and the manager likes him because he gives him an option for more than one position and always does everything in the right way.

afcb.co.uk: What are the hopes of the supporters for the rest of the season?

Matthew: To avoid relegation and anything above that would be a bonus.

It was a difficult summer last year because the signings Benitez had wanted didn’t all arrive and, those that did arrive, came quite late in most cases.

They had a tough start with difficult fixtures so they were playing catch-up and the first half of the season was all about avoiding relegation.

Now, they have got themselves almost into mid-table and you can say they are looking up rather than over their shoulders.

But they just need to get safe and wherever they finish, as long as they are above the relegation zone, the fans would be happy.

I think the supporters expect them to stay up now because of the good run they have been on but they will not be taking anything for granted.

They need to stay up and then try to sort out the future of the manager and hope he signs a new contract which is just critical to the future success of the club.

afcb.co.uk: Who is their dangerman?

Matthew: Miguel Almiron.

He was their record signing from Atlanta United in January and has settled in really well.

He’s adapted very well to the Premier League so Bournemouth will have to watch him.

He’s quick, he has a trick, he creates chances and is linking well up front with Salomon Rondon.

Ayoze Perez, who sometimes get criticised by Newcastle fans, a touch unfairly in my opinion, has been a key player. Benitez likes him because he’s intelligent and technical.

And as we saw against Everton, he pops up with some very important goals.

Going back a couple of seasons when Newcastle won at Bournemouth, it was Perez who scored the goal and I’m sure some Bournemouth fans will remember that. He’s been very good for them recently.

Afcb.co.uk. Who has been the unsung hero?

Matthew: Isaac Hayden

The midfielder has had a really good few months. He wants to leave for personal reasons and has been wanting to leave all season but you can’t tell from his performances because he’s been terrific.

afcb.co.uk: How about a score prediction?

Matthew: I will go for a 2-2 draw.

A point away from home would be great for Newcastle given their away record in recent months.

I think it will be the same outcome as last season but maybe in a different manner.

You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @raisbeck10

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