MATT RITCHIE is relishing his switch to left wing-back – and would be more than happy to remain in the position for the remainder of the season.

Ritchie’s move to a more defensive role came as something of a surprise when it was forced on Rafael Benitez at the end of last year, with the Scotsman having spent the vast majority of his career in a much more advanced position on the wing.

However, with Paul Dummett injured and no alternative option at left-back, Benitez was forced to turn to Ritchie despite his lack of experience in a defensive role.

The move proved a masterstroke, with Ritchie’s impressive performances on the left of a back five proving a key factor in Newcastle’s impressive run of form at the start of the year. The 29-year-old’s comfort on the front foot was not a surprise, but his defensive reliability, which helped secure crucial clean sheets against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Burnley, was rather harder to predict.

With Dummett back to full fitness, and Antonio Barreca having arrived on a season-long loan from Monaco, it would have been easy for Benitez to restore Ritchie to his previous position further upfield.

As recently as last month, the Newcastle manager was suggesting that was his preferred option, but Ritchie’s consistently strong form has prompted a rethink, and the Scottish international is delighted to be remaining at wing-back.

“I’ve got to be honest, I’m loving it,” said Ritchie, who is set to remain part of the Newcastle backline for Saturday’s home game with Everton. “I feel like I get in better areas higher up the pitch with the ball. I’d say that one of my biggest strengths is my delivery, and I get in positions now to cross the ball.

“I feel like, defensively, I had to learn on the job a little bit. I made a few mistakes, small errors, which you get punished for in this league. I didn’t get tight enough at Watford. I came away from that game learning. I learnt on the job. The Man City game gave me great confidence defensively.

“I came away from those games learning and becoming a better player. I’ve certainly really enjoyed playing left wing-back. The way we play, the lads in the middle are spraying the ball out wide. I think we’ve worked a lot on switching the play, and the wing-backs in this system are so important.”

Ritchie has long been one of the best crossers in the Premier League, but whereas he previously struggled to find space in the final third, now he is able to pick his moments to surge forward on the overlap.

It helps that, in Salomon Rondon, he has a physically-imposing target to aim for in the penalty box, and while the Venezuelan might only have claimed seven Premier League goals this season, he has consistently been one of the Magpies’ most effective performers.

His long-term future remains uncertain, with Benitez’s desire to sign him permanently likely to clash with Mike Ashley’s renewed determination to prioritise the purchase of younger, less experienced players.

However, he will remain a key figure in the final nine games of the season, and his team-mates are in no doubt as to his importance to Newcastle’s preferred style of play.

“It’s one of those things,” said Ritchie. “You play with players at different clubs and different systems, but Ronny (Rondon) suits us down to the ground.

“I know that when I get the ball, that if I hit a good area, Ronny, more often than not, will be there. Whether he wins the first ball or second ball, he’s always a problem.

“It’s really enjoyable. I feel like I enjoy being on the ball, having the ball, and I feel like I'm getting more touches than I did when I was playing a little higher up the pitch. As I've said before, as long as I'm playing, I'll be happy. I'll play anywhere.”