Now on TBFUTH we cast an eye over the much-maligned Andy Whing. Whing has so far attracted the ire of the Kassam's boo boys, but is he just misunderstood? Instead of moaning at him because he's different to what we're used to, or because he is a less attack-minded full-back, perhaps we should instead look at what he can bring to the team and focus on some of his unique attributes. Could the slow, steady and so far misunderstood defensive big boy go on to become a key squad member over the course of the season?
Andy Whing's early performances were met with howls of derision from many Oxford fans, his every move scrutinised and subjected to a chorus of boos from the stands with every slight mistake. Oxford fans, who have, for the past two years, become used to the sight of fan favourite Damian Batt bombing down the right from his wing back position, took an instant dislike to the slower, bigger Whing and his less attacking approach.
The boos began as early as August when Oxford struggled to a draw at home to Bradford – our first home league match. Whing replaced Batt at right back and, despite the fact that the whole side put in a poor performance that day, Whing was made the scapegoat. As Oxford made a stuttering start in the league, critics of Whing began to grow louder and more vociferous, particularly in the wake of another poor draw at home to a ten-man Aldershot. Much of the criticism seems to stem from the simple fact that Whing is not Damian Batt and his more conservative defensive approach is not appreciated by the Oxford faithful. While his tendency to back off when an opposition player is running at him can be frustrating, it is necessary for a player of his limited mobility to stand off the attacker to avoid being caught for pace.
Expectations were high for Whing when he arrived in the summer from League One Leyton Orient, where he was highly rated. All of his previous clubs had deployed him as a right back, where he had acquitted himself well at a higher level, and upon signing for us he was expected to provide strong competition for Batt's position at right back. Though there were few indications of his potential flexibility when he first arrived, there were early signs back in preseason when he surprisingly stepped in at the last minute to replace Asa Hall in midfield against Birmingham City, where he impressed greatly as a combative holding midfielder.
Injuries have been a problem for the squad all season, but as injuries and suspensions begin to afflict the defence, Whing's surprising flexibility could become a major asset. Despite some early shaky performances at right back, he has recently looked far more assured in this position, putting in a solid performance against Port Vale when Damian Batt was suspended – and he may be needed to fill in if reports of Batt using crutches last night are proven to be true. Meanwhile, he's also filled in as both a holding midfielder and and centre back and again acquitted himself admirably.
Whing's versatility makes him an asset when filling in for absent first-teamers, but it also serves another useful purpose. On Saturday, faced with a potential problem at the back after Duberry was ruled out through injury, Wilder could simply have replaced him like-for-like with Harry Worley. Instead (or, more accurately, as well as this), he brought in Whing for McLaren and switched to a 3-4-3 formation. The switch came as a surprise to Southend and as a result we were utterly dominant away to the league leaders, though ultimately unsuccessful. We have frequently struggled against tough, physical sides who pack the midfield (notably against Stevenage last season), but the move to a 3-4-3 seemed to work well at Southend and may be a good tactic to circumvent this.
Andy Whing, far from being the disastrous signing many claimed, could prove to become a very useful squad member over the course of the season. With injuries biting, and difficult away matches coming up, the presence of a player who is capable of providing support all over the pitch, and providing Wilder with options when he wants to change the shape and tactics, could be increasingly important as the season wears on. Instead of slating him, Oxford fans should be appreciative of our ultimate utility player.