RAFAEL BENITEZ feels it is only a matter of time before Matt Ritchie helps Newcastle United’s goal-shy strikers add to their low return because he always looks at ways to improve his play.

The Magpies’ forwards have found the net just four times in 11 games so far, with injured centre-back Jamaal Lascelles topping the team’s charts with two league goals alongside the stuttering Joselu.

Newcastle’s mid-table position is hardly a concern at this stage, but certainly the lack of goals is something that has grown in significance after back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Burnley and Bournemouth.

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Ritchie was the side’s best player again when the Cherries left St James’ Park on Saturday, but he has been unable to recapture the sort of form in front of goal that drove a promotion push.

The 28-year-old scored 16 times last season, 12 in the Championship, and it is that sort of impact Benitez could do with seeing from him now to boost Newcastle’s return – by this stage he had scored four times in all competitions.

Benitez said: “It's his way to work hard. Every day, every training session, he works very, very hard. We are trying to analyse things and he is keen to watch games – we prepare clips and then we are talking about teams, 'Have you seen this player, have you seen this one, this movement...', so he's always working at that.”

Despite the lack of goals for Ritchie, though, Benitez appreciates how important the £12m signing from Bournemouth is.

The Newcastle manager said: “Is he a key player for us? Yes. Was he a very important player for us last season? Yes, for sure. We were promoted and he was a player who made the difference in a lot of games.

“The question with Ritchie is that he is so dynamic, he catches your eye quickly because he is everywhere. I like this kind of player because they are more positive and they are an example for the others.

“We are working on his game and understanding of the game, but in terms of energy and what he gives to you and the way that the lifts the others, he is quite positive and he is a key player for us.”

While Newcastle’s frustrations are growing in front of goal, Benitez is maintaining preparations for the January transfer window when he hopes to bring in different options.

The level of his spending will depend on whether Mike Ashley is successful in selling the club before Christmas, with little sign of major progress beyond the parties who have signed con-disclosure agreements.

He would like to offload Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has only played only half an hour in the Premier League this season, and replace him with a different option. Mitrovic didn’t even it make it off the bench against Bournemouth.

Benitez clearly doesn’t trust him because he has only played half an hour, from a combined couple of substitute appearances, and has still scored a goal (against West Ham). There is interest from Turkey, although Anderlecht feel hopes of striking a long loan are almost impossible.

“At the moment we are working with 26 players in the squad to try to improve them. I cannot say, ‘I want to do this or that’, because maybe we cannot,” said Benitez.

“I had this conversation with an agent the other day, I said, ‘You have to wait until December to see where we are because if I say ‘yes, he can go, after that we could have an injury’. So why do I have to sell my player if I don’t have a replacement?

“Then you go for the replacement and it’s £30m, or he wants to wait until next year, or won’t come because we don’t play Champions League. So why do I have to agree to something now when we have two months to go? Are we working on names? Yes, you have to be ready.”