The curious case of Asa Hall

When Chris Wilder signs two players from the same club – Adam Chapman and Shane Killock, wee Stevie Kinninburgh and wee Ross Perry – the first things you think is; ‘who does he want and who’s carrying the bags?’.

When Wilder signed Simon Heslop and Asa Hall in 2010 there was a similar feeling. Nearly two years later, it’s still difficult to know which is which.

Signed almost immediately after promotion, it’s conceivable that the duo would have joined whichever division we were in. Their signing was entirely consistent with Wilder’s acquisition strategy in the Conference – mopping up the best available from failing Conference sides (Jack Midson, Ryan Clarke, Mark Creighton, Damian Batt, Simon Clist et al).

Heslop made an early impression in a ‘Gerrard’ role; bombing forward and pitching in with some spectacular goals. Hall’s contribution was less obvious. With Dannie Bulman leaving and Simon Clist sidelined through injury, things weren’t quite firing on all cylinders. Wilder continued to mix his midfield pot throughout the season and the duo drifted into the margins. However, where others found themselves ejected on loan and beyond, Heslop and Hall periodically returned throughout the campaign.

Without making midfielders sound like one dimensional Spice Girls, Wilder’s preferred three man midfield works best when you’ve got The Tackling One (Bulman), The Creative One (Murray) and The One Who Does the Housework (Clist). A two-man midfield is more like a bachelor pad – one gets the beers in (Whing, perhaps), one pulls the chicks (Leven) – nobody clears up the pizza boxes and cans of lager.

Hall does none of these, he’s not particularly ferocious in the tackle and seems too gangly and untidy to be a creative drive or housemaid. However, Chris Wilder has persevered and he’s hit a rich vein of form with fine goals against both Swindon and, again, on Saturday against Rotherham.

Wilder said after the Swindon game that there was a lot more to come from Hall, but he’s not known for his patience with players. What is it that Wilder sees in Asa Hall?

Gothic synth monsters Depeche Mode were never going to have a standard vocals, guitar, bass and drums line-up. At their mid-90s peak their ‘team’ dynamic consisted of Dave Gahan (vocals), Martin Gore (songwriter), Alan Wilder (musician) and Andy Fletcher. Fletch was in all the videos, band pictures, and appeared on stage. When their rock-myth was most rampant he was attributed with playing ‘bass synth’, as if such a thing existed. As the fan base matured and their own lives mellowed, the veil was allowed to fall; it became clear that Fletch was, effectively, the band’s accountant. In short, his role wasn’t to add any rock-god musical magic, but to provide a stable base that secured the band long term.

Asa Hall is apparently good friends with James Constable. Constable comes across as an intelligent guy who benefits from having a stable background of family and friends he can rely on. If Constable is drawn to people like himself, then Hall’s success can be explained simply by the fact he’s a good guy to have about the place.

Very late in Saturday’s game, as Rotherham prepared one last assault to try and grab an undeserved point, Michael Duberry and Adam Chapman engaged in an agitated argument about who was picking up their extra players. Neither would back down – Chapman, an ebullient character despite his age, was adamant that players needed picking up, Duberry, similarly dominant, waved him away aggressively. Neither would back down. If you add people like Peter Leven, Andy Whing and James Constable it is clear that as the squad improves, the characters become stronger. With this comes greater risk of it destabilising through its own forceful personality. Hall’s role becomes more essential because he is there to be do whatever is needed and improve his team and surroundings. With Leven and Chapman at his side, Hall’s apparent anonymity and quiet improvement becomes their key to success.

That, or it’s just his new haircut, of course.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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