Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie celebrates with manager Steve Bruce. Picture: OWEN HUMPHREYS/REUTERS
Newcastle United's Matt Ritchie celebrates with manager Steve Bruce. Picture: OWEN HUMPHREYS/REUTERS

London — Newcastle United dented Sheffield United’s bid to qualify for the Champions League as Joelinton scored his first Premier League goal since August in a 3-0 victory on Sunday.

Steve Bruce’s side made the most after Blades defender John Egan’s second-half dismissal at empty St James’ Park.

Allan Saint-Maximin broke the deadlock moments after Egan’s second booking. Matt Ritchie doubled Newcastle’s lead.

With the visitors in disarray, Brazilian striker Joelinton ended his wretched run with his first goal in the league since he netted the winner at Tottenham on August 25. It was Joelinton’s fourth goal of the season and will offer hope he could still live up to the fanfare that followed his £40m move from Hoffenheim in 2019.

Newcastle were playing for the first time since the March suspension of the top flight and the victory moved them 11 points clear of the relegation zone. It was a welcome boost amid the frustration over Newcastle’s still uncertain takeover by a Saudi Arabia-based consortium.

Speaking before the match, Bruce said: “You cannot deny it’s been a distraction but we can’t use it as an excuse.”

For Sheffield United, the defeat was another blow to their European hopes after Wednesday’s 0-0 draw at Aston Villa. Chris Wilder’s team remain two points behind fifth-placed Manchester United.

As has been customary in every match since the restart on Wednesday, a minute’s silence was held for victims of the coronavirus, while both teams took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter cause.

Ritchie couldn’t find a way past Blades keeper Dean Henderson early on when his long-range shot was clawed away from the 23-year-old. 

The turning point came five minutes into the second half when the Blades were reduced to 10 men. Egan had been booked in the first half for arguing with Joelinton and the Brazilian was his tormentor again when the United defender tugged him back to earn a second yellow card.

Five minutes later Newcastle took full advantage of their numerical superiority. Saint-Maximin had scored Newcastle’s winner at Southampton in their final game before the pandemic hiatus and the French winger was their hero again three months later.

Ritchie’s cross should have been cleared but Enda Stevens missed the ball and it ran through for Saint-Maximin to fire past Henderson from close-range.

Billy Sharp headed just wide from George Baldock’s cross as the visitors pushed for an equaliser. But Ritchie finished them off in the 69th minute when he advanced unchecked to smash a superb strike past Henderson from 20m.

There was even better to come for Newcastle in the 78th minute as Joelinton got on the scoresheet. Almiron’s cross picked out the unmarked Joelinton close to  goal.