Season’s end: how the squad is looking

Contract shenanigans aside, the squad, including Green and Wright, is one that you’d be pretty happy starting with next season with only sheer numbers being a disadvantage.

The spine of the squad makes the spine of the team. It’s a travesty that Ryan Clarke’s main contribution to the Wembley win was him dropping the ball into his own net. There’s no better testament to his worth than the fact he took over from Turley and won supporters’ player of the season.

Creighton had a barely perceptible drop in form mid season, although the death of his Nan coincided with his demotion. Otherwise, he’s been absolutely dominant in the centre of defence. Not accounting for the fact they all played at different levels, Crieghton sits with Shotton, Briggs and Elliot amongst the clubs’ most impressive centre-backs.

The first time I saw Danny Bulman, against Chester, I thought his performance was up there amongst the best ‘debuts’ by an Oxford player. His immense work rate was impressive enough, but his ability to maintain it all season took him up to another level. Rightly recognised as the Players’ Player of the Year, he’s also the Oxblogger Player of the Year.

The platform provided by Clarke, Creighton and Bulman was made of granite, but it was Murray and Constable that turned us into such a dominant force. During The Sticky Patch – the eight game period between Cambridge draw and the Hayes and Yeading away defeat – Constable played five games, Murray none. We won 1 game, lost 3 and had a goal difference of just -2. We weren’t being turned over, we just didn’t have the spark offered by the baldy twins.

Most were surprised to see the back-line being remodelled after Christmas. Day had looked like a worthy deputy to Foster and Creighton, who had been impervious. There seemed no strong argument for signing Jake Wright until Foster’s demons started to reveal themselves. With Wee Stevie Kinniburgh heading back to Rangers, Tonkin’s arrival at left-back was less of a shock. After initially wobbling, the new look backline settled into a formidable unit. Landing Kinniburgh on a permanent deal looks less like necessary strengthening, more that he’s a good player who was available and willing to come.

By contrast to the backline; the midfield was metronomic in its predictability. Bulman and Murray provided grit and guile; Simon Clist gave the midfield balance with a combination of both. But, in his endless search for perfection, Clist may be the one Wilder will look to replace before the end of next season.

No matter how much Wilder mixed the front line; Constable, Midson and Green, proved the best combination. Midson and Green offered speed and height, Constable was the complete striker. Potter’s contribution changed the dynamic of the attack and usually brought goals. Injury and illness limited him a little; so it’s difficult to know whether he will ever make it as a regular starter. It seems unlikely that we’ll be able to flood opponents like we were able to in the Conference. Some strength and height may be a useful addition; particularly away from home.

And now we come to those in the grey area. Chapman’s future remains unsure for obvious reasons. Nobody knows the details, of course, the court have allowed him to walk free until now; so it maybe its not as black and white as it might be. Plus, of course, Chapman’s form; which was the turning point of the season, might suggest that he’s become less worried about incarceration. Either that or he’s a hapless fatalistic goon – which seems just as likely. On the other hand, he’s admitted his guilt, and it seems unfathomable that he’ll get away with his crime completely.

As Oxblogger’s official favourite player, Damien Batt is technically above reproach. But as much as he’s tireless, fearless and offers options going forward, he’s technically weaker than other members of the squad. The signing of Ben Purkiss could be the sign that Mr Wilder sees this.

Aaron Woodley seems little more than a fine wine that the club are maturing in preparation for a big sale.

Perhaps the most perplexing player in the squad is lil’ old Sam Deering. It’s difficult to fault his endeavour; people love him for it. Before Wilder arrived he was the breath of fresh air, now the whole squad is a breath of fresh air. In a strong squad, there is a point where even good players come under threat. So in a phalanx of strikers where does Deering fit? Not the height of Midson, the finishing of Constable, the speed of Green, or the creativity of Potter. Deering’s principle quality, of buzzing around and being an irritant to tired defenders could well become surplus to requirements in the environs of the Football League.

So, we need a big lump of a striker and another goalkeeper to complete the core squad. After which some difficult decisions might be needed. But then, this is the price of success, I suppose.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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