The wrap – Oxford United 0 Bristol Rovers 2

Whether you see it as another set of excuses or simply telling things as they are, Karl Robinson was open about the problems we currently face before Saturday’s defeat to Bristol Rovers

For weeks, we’ve been playing pretty much the same starting eleven which has held things together and put in a decent run in the process. But there’s been no release, no opportunity to freshen things up, if a player from outside that starting eleven comes in, we look weaker. It stands to reason that eventually someone will get injured or lose form and suddenly we look vulnerable.

I have a theory about why Bristol Rovers hold a hex over us at The Kassam, which I spoke about last season. Off the back of the defeat to Southend on Boxing Day, it was always going to be a tall order to get something from the game, particularly given the situation we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Robinson’s use of Slavi Spasov as a second-half substitute was a message to the owner of just how threadbare we are rather than a genuine attempt to retrieve something from the game. The fact he was too young to wear a sponsor on his shirt should tell you something about the options we have.

Before the game Robinson announced that Tony McMahon and Sam Smith would be leaving in January. McMahon has some personal issues which have hampered his ability to settle, which is fair enough. Smith is a slightly different issue.

Lots of people have criticised Smith, but I think the issue is more strategic. He hardly had any league experience before arriving from Reading, so expecting him to suddenly lead the line in a senior team was always asking a lot. 

Lots of people criticise the use of loans to bolster the squad, but they are an opportunity to bring in players that we couldn’t otherwise afford. However, strategically, we’ve got to decide the profile of loanee that will work for us. They need league experience and will have been loaned out previously. Presumably there are young players who simply join a club on loan and light things up, but not often. Kemar Roofe wasn’t much older than Smith when he joined us, but he’d been on loan at three other league clubs before he came to us. Rovers’ goalscorer Alex Jakubiak was with us in Michael Appleton’s first season, he’s had five loan spells since and looked a far better player for it.

We should also only expect them to stay for half a season, even if they’ve signed for the whole year. Jack Payne and George Baldock both left early and there was nothing we could do. We need to assume they won’t make the whole season and be ready to bring in a replacement if needed.

Talking of which, I can see Marcus Browne leaving. I’m not enough of a body language expert to know if he has stopped trying or whether he’s injured or tired, but it makes sense for West Ham to accelerate his development by sending him out to a bigger club for the rest of the season if one can be found.

Along with Browne, it won’t take big bucks to see Curtis Nelson leave. He’s really got no reason to stick around and plug away in a League 1 relegation fight when he should be playing in the Championship. A few hundred thousand and a decent sell-on clause should be good enough.

Jordan Graham may plug the gap left by Browne, Nelson will be harder to replace even with Charlie Raglan and John Mousinho available. All told, without movement, we look set to get weaker before we get stronger. We need to put some depth into the squad, or we could be in for a particular uncomfortable ride.

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