The problem on the right

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

It is now sixteen months since Emmerson Boyce left Wigan Athletic under acrimonious circumstances. Boyce had been at the heart of most of the club’s greatest achievements and was much loved by the fans. It was never going to be an easy parting of ways.

When news broke out about Boyce’s departure in May 2015 there was consternation among his supporters, many of whom felt the club could have done more to keep him. There were myriad arguments for and against the club in the Boyce debate. But although the issues revolved largely around loyalty towards a player who had become a club legend, there were also those who questioned whether Latics could get a player who was any better to replace him.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in August 2006. He went on to stay for nine seasons, his versatility in being able to play in the centre of defence or on the right being a real asset. Although in his early years at the club he was not the most technically proficient, he had a will to win that endeared him to the fans. When playing at right back Boyce had not been the most fleet footed or the best of distributors, but it was all to change when Roberto Martinez switched to 3-4-3 in November 2012. At the beginning Boyce looked uncomfortable in the right wing back position, but by the end of the season he had played his part in Wigan’s epic victories over the highs and mighties of the Premier League. Boyce had become the archetypal wing back, constantly available to receive the ball, helping stretch the play wide, thoughtful in his distribution and solid in defence.

Wing back is a specialist position, not easy to adapt to for someone used to playing right back in a quartet. Martinez and the coaches had worked with Boyce and he had mastered the position with aplomb. In January 2015 Martinez had brought in Jean Beausejour to play the left wing back role in which he had been utilized by his national team, Chile. The two smooth functioning wing backs were key cogs in Martinez’s machine.

Since Boyce’s departure no one has been able to claim the right back/wing back position as their own. In the first half of last season we saw glimpses of Kevin McNaughton, Jonjoe Kenny and Donald Love, with Tim Chow sometimes filling in. Donervon Daniels also played there when not playing in the centre of defence. Reece Wabara was signed in January and made 20 appearances without being totally convincing. He left in the summer after he and the club were unable to agree terms.

The turnover has continued this season. So far we have seen Luke Burke, Reece Burke, Nathan Byrne, Alex Gilbey, David Perkins, Max Power and Yanic Wildschut play there. Loanee Kyle Knoyle has not yet appeared after getting injured in the pre-season.

Were those who thought Boyce would be hard to replace right? Could Boyce have played a major role last season if he had stayed?

In fact Boyce went to Blackpool where he made just 17 starts last season. The reality was that he was 35 years old when he went there, with his best years behind him. Moreover after Martinez’s departure the player had, more often than not, found himself being played more as an orthodox right back or central defender. His halcyon days as a Premier League wing back were over.

Like Martinez, Gary Caldwell is a major proponent of the back three/wing back type of formation. But since taking over as manager he has rarely had the luxury of seeing two wing backs make a major impact in the same game. Moreover some of the players who have occupied the positions have not looked entirely comfortable with their roles.

Caldwell’s main preferred formations can be described as variations on 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. To be able to switch between the systems he would ideally have players with a bank of prior experience playing as both wing back and full back. But with most of his signings coming from English clubs it was going to be more likely he would get players used to playing as orthodox full backs, having to coach them into playing the differing wing back role.

Near the end of the transfer window Caldwell tried to sign attacking right full back Callum Paterson from Hearts, with an expectation of him playing either role. However, the deal never materialized and instead Caldwell signed Nathan Byrne from Wolves.

The complication is that Byrne is essentially a wing back or winger. So Caldwell faces the choice of sometimes playing Byrne as an orthodox right back or bringing in someone else for the position when he wants his team to play with four at the back. When fit, Knoyle could challenge for a place, although he probably lacks the experience to make the position his own.

Reece Burke is expected to return from injury shortly and can play right back, although he is primarily a central defender. The 18 year old Luke Burke knows both the wing back and full back roles through his time in the development squad, but Caldwell seems reluctant to rely on him as a regular alternative. When fit again Donervon Daniels will also challenge for a place on the right of defence.

It is possible that Caldwell will seek an experienced right back/wing back in the January transfer window. But budgetary constraints might well preclude that option.

Many fans prefer to see Latics play with an orthodox back four, citing greater defensive stability. However, in the latter days of the Martinez era at Wigan it could be argued that playing with three central defenders and two wing backs provided more defensive solidity than we had seen with a  back four.

But it does not necessarily work like that under Caldwell’s system. Is it that Caldwell just has not yet found the quality of wing backs he needs? Or is it that he sees them in a more attacking role than Martinez did?

The right side of defence has been one of Caldwell’s biggest headaches so far in his brief managerial career. At this stage it looks like Byrne will be his first choice right wing back, when fully fit. But who would be his preference at right back remains to be seen.

A Dundee United fan’s view of Kyle Knoyle


The 19 year old Kyle Knoyle has joined Wigan Athletic on loan from West Ham United for the whole of the coming season.Knoyle is a right back, a position which was problematic for Latics last season.

Last summer Caldwell signed Kevin McNaughton on a one year contract and Jonjoe Kenny on a two month loan. Unfortunately things did not work out with McNaughton making only three appearances before picking up an injury that effectively kept him out for the rest of the season. Moreover Kenny was recalled by Everton when his loan spell expired. Donervon Daniels was moved across from the centre of defence and showed promise in the right back position, if not being entirely convincing. Donald Love was brought in from Manchester United for a short term loan, with Reece Wabara being signed as a replacement in January. Wabara’s short term contract terminated in summer and it appears that Latics were not willing to meet his wage expectations for staying.

With Knoyle and Daniels available it could be that Gary Caldwell will not be seeking another right back. The signing of Knoyle could therefore prove crucial.

On signing the Newham-born youngster Caldwell said Kyle is a young player with potential, one who has been identified as having the qualities we are looking for and was watched last season. We are optimistic he can develop here with us and make a positive contribution to the squad and we’re happy to have him on board.”

The 5 ft 9 in Kyle Knoyle is a product of the West Ham academy with three caps for the England under 18 team. He has made just one appearance for the Hammers’ senior team, playing the full 90 minutes against Astra Girgiu in Romania in the Europa League last August. He was an unused substitute on three occasions last season.

In January Knoyle went on loan to Dundee United, where he was to play alongside Billy Mckay. He made his debut for the Tangerines as an 82nd minute substitute in a 3-0 win at Ross County in late February. He repeated this with a 66th minute substitution against the same side a week later in the Scottish Cup, which United won 3-2. Knoyle had to wait until early April to make his first start in a 1-0 victory over St Johnstone. Despite poor team results in the rest of April and May he was a regular starter. Knoyle made a total of 9 starts for United.

In order to get more information on Knoyle’s time at Tannadice we reached out to the Dundee United fan forum on

I hasten to add that United have been referred to as “the Arabs” since the 1962-63 season when the harsh winter led to the cancellation of many matches. However, on one occasion they were due to play at home to Albion Rovers and the club hired a tar burner to melt the snow and ice on the pitch, which they covered with tons and tons of sand. The team played so well on the sandy surface, virtually devoid of grass, that they became known as the Arabs.

The feedback we received through the forum:

Setenza commented that:

He only really started getting a game towards the end of his loan period for us. Once he did, most people wondered why he didn’t start before.

We were a pretty dreadful team last season, playing mostly long ball football, but he did show plenty of willingness to get forward from full back and attack, and in my view was one of our better performers. Worked hard and usually tried the right thing in possession. Defensively, maybe a few more slip ups, but was playing in an awful defence.

Certainly wouldn’t have been unhappy if we’d signed him for another loan spell. Seemed to have the right attitude to be a decent player in time.

Micky added that:

Can’t add anything more than what Set said, seems a good attacking option from full back..

Naebody responded:

For a couple of games, he looked the best player in the worst United team for 50 years. Everything Set says is fair. But it’s impossible to know whether the awful quality of players around him were making him look better or worse.

We also got feedback from the Dundee United Mad forum:

TerryTheTerror commented:

Signed on loan in January then never given a chance in the team. Once he did get that chance he was a fixture and ended up probably being our best and most consistent performer. Fast, athletic, hard in the tackle, and good with the ball. Everything a full back should be.

Weedude83 supported Terry’s comments:

Once our idiotic manager decided to play him, was regularly our best player.

Quick, strong and likes to get forward and help the attack.

Defensively, strong in the tackle, very tenacious and won his share of headers – sometimes caught out of position but that’s to be expected at his age/experience.

Genuinely wish we had him for next season.

Smirky4 was less positive:

I thought he was very average, I think people hyped him up on here and everyone looked at him with rose tinted glasses, often caught out of position, not a flying wing back bombing forward getting crosses in or indeed playing that killer pass…..