NECESSITY is often described as the mother of invention. If Newcastle United had boasted an abundance of left-sided defensive options, Matt Ritchie would almost certainly not have been shoehorned into a left wing-back position at the turn of the year.

As it is, after four months of filling in, the erstwhile winger can now see himself spending the rest of his career in the role.

Even Rafael Benitez admits Ritchie’s positional reshuffle came about more by accident than design, but the decision to switch the 29-year-old to the left of Newcastle’s back five has proved one of the most astute moves of the Magpies’ season.

Defensively, he has proved more than a match for some of the most potent wide players in the Premier League, and at the opposite end of the field, his overlapping runs have added a new element to Newcastle’s attacking play.

His future on Tyneside remains in doubt, with the Magpies’ policy of refusing to offer long-term contracts to players approaching their 30s likely to prove a sticking point in any discussions. Ritchie is about to enter the final two years of his current deal, and is understandably keen to secure some guarantees beyond 2021.

His importance to Newcastle should not be underestimated though, both in terms of his impact on the pitch and his importance to the dynamics of the dressing room, and if he is to spend the rest of his career at St James’ Park, he will be happy to remain at left wing-back.

“I’m really enjoying it (playing at left wing-back),” said Ritchie. “We’ve spent quite a lot of time playing with a front three, with Ronny (Salomon Rondon), Miguel (Almiron) and Ayo (Ayoze Perez), and if you’re playing as a wide player in that formation, you have to be a real threat in behind.

“My strength isn’t really running behind. Don’t get me wrong, if we were a total football team it would be different, and it was different in the Championship because we had a lot of the ball.

“But with the team we have now in the Premier League, we’re a bit more counter-attacking. I enjoy playing wing-back – I get a lot more of the ball than I did higher up the pitch.”

Ritchie’s crossing from a deeper position has been a key facet of Newcastle’s attacking play in the last few months, but the Scotsman’s ability to pose a threat from a wide position should hardly be a surprise.

The quality of his defensive work has been somewhat more unexpected, and is especially notable given the standard of opponent he has found himself up against.

His stand-out defensive display came in January’s 2-1 win over Manchester City, when he restricted the newly crowned FWA Footballer of the Year, Raheem Sterling, to a handful of openings.

He was equally impressive as he marked the dangerous Demarai Gray out of the game in last month’s 1-0 win at Leicester, so while Liverpool’s attackers will pose a formidable test when Newcastle play their final home game of the season on Saturday, he will not be fazed by the sight of Mo Salah winding up on the Reds’ right-hand side.

“I thoroughly enjoy the defensive side of things,” said Ritchie. “I’ve played against some very good wingers now. I’ve learned on the job a bit defensively, and if you ask the gaffer here or Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, they’d probably never have said that I could defend.

“I’ve always liked to press and enjoyed regaining the ball, but one-on-one defending has never really been part of my make-up. But I’ve really relished and enjoyed learning it, and I feel as though I’m accomplished now in that part of my game. I feel confident coming up against not only high-skilled players, but also fast players. I feel as though I know how to deal with it.”

Meanwhile, Jack Colback’s Newcastle career is drawing to a close with Nottingham Forest boss Martin O’Neill keen to tie up a permanent deal for his services in the next few weeks.

Colback, who is about to enter the final year of his Magpies contract, has spent the current campaign on loan at the City Ground.

O’Neill regards him as one of the most influential members of the squad he inherited when he took over as Forest boss in mid-January, and is hoping to thrash out a cut-price deal.

“I have a fairly decent idea in my mind of what we want to do,” said O’Neill.