Midweek fixture: The top 50 players of the 2010s

On the 1st January 2010, Oxford United were a non-league club, their first game of the new decade a 1-0 defeat to Tamworth, ten years later, concluding with a 2-1 win over Wimbledon, they’d achieved two promotions, three trips to Wembley, countless giant killings and endless derby wins. But who were the best players from that decade of glory? Well, I asked and you answered. Here they are, the top 50 players of the 2010s.

50. Toni Martinez

Toni Martinez only started nine games on loan from West Ham in 2017, but in that time he scored five times including one of the most iconic goals of the decade away to Middlesborough in the FA Cup. This alone makes him one of the top fifty players of the decade.

49. Matt Green

Matt Green had a difficult start with Oxford, after a successful loan spell, he was nearly signed by Darren Patterson in 2008. But, just as the club were preparing to announce his arrival, he headed west and signed for Torquay United. Eventually, he joined in 2009 and became one spike in the trident that fired us to promotion in 2010. His key moment was the spectacular opening goal in the Conference play-off final.

48. Simon Clist

Every team needs its water carrier; the 2010 promotion side was driven by a simple principle in midfield – Dannie Bulman won the ball, which was mopped up by Simon Clist who gave it to Adam Murray or Adam Chapman to create something. While Bulman, Murray and Chapman were all more celebrated, none of it would have worked without Clist.

47. Jonjoe Kenny

When George Baldock was recalled to MK Dons by Karl Robinson in 2016, of all people, it threatened to blow the doors off our promotion chase. But Michael Appleton picked out a diamond in Jonjoe Kenny from Everton’s youth ranks who marshalled us to League 1, a year after that formative experience he won the Under 17 World Cup with England.

46. Joe Rothwell

Michael Appleton had a simple vision; pick up young players from the Premier League youth ranks, promise to develop them onto greater things, then let them soar. Joe Rothwell’s enigmatic Oxford career after joining from Manchester United, he had his moments, but the Championship hawks were circling before he truly flourished.

45. Michael Duberry

Michael Duberry was a big character with a big reputation. His signing in 2012 was coup as Chris Wilder turned to experienced players to try and fire us to promotion. Duberry was commanding in his first season. Fans loved his swagger, but age caught up with him in his second season bringing his time at the club to a close. His key moment was against Hereford United, when he managed to score two own-goals, including one in the last minute, plus an injury time equaliser at the other end.

44. Chris Cadden

Chris Cadden was Karl Robinson’s dream full-back; in the mould of George Baldock – who he had at MK Dons – Cadden was full of energy and pace. He was also beyond Robinson’s budget resulting in a peculiar arrangement where he signed on loan from Columbus Crew immediately after leaving Motherwell. Robinson made no bones about wanting to keep him, but Crew were insistent that he crossed the Atlantic.

43. Adam Murray

In reality, Adam Murray only played one game for us in the 2010s; the defeat to Tamworth. Up to that point he’d captained the side and set them on course for promotion. Injury struck him down and he never played for the club again, but his spirit burned through the squad all the way to Wembley.

42. Damian Batt

Damian Batt was a dynamo of a full-back who seemed to function in both boxes simultaneously. His drive and energy overwhelmed the Conference, he took the step up to the Football League in his stride, turning out for three more seasons. Released in 2013, his life then took a very strange turn.

41. Jack Midson

Matt Green offered pace, James Constable strength, Jack Midson gave our three pronged promotion attack finesse and craft. Sadly, Chris Wilder never seemed completely comfortable with gentleman Jack, but whoever he brought in couldn’t best him. Eventually Wilder took a ratchet to the promotion team and considered Midson too lightweight for the rigours of League football. He was eventually eased out – but not before scoring a memorable hat-trick at Torquay – with his reputation in tact.

40. Billy Turley

Most of Billy Turley’s Oxford career was in the 2000s; he played just three games in the 2010s as understudy to Ryan Clarke, but for someone who demanded attention his back-up role in the 2010 promotion charge was done with good grace. A key cheerleader in the main, he helped put right the wrongs of our relegation in 2006. His memorable moment may have been his last, a wondrous last minute save in his final home game for the club against Wrexham.

39. Tariq Fosu

Tariq Fosu was Karl Robinson’s protege who signed from Charlton in 2019. Like many of Robinson’s signings, Fosu stretched the club financially, so when he started the season on fire, he was always vulnerable to be plucked because of a paltry release clause which within easy reach of most Championship clubs. When Brentford came knocking at the start of 2020, the clause was triggered and he slipped from our grasp.

38. Dannie Bulman

Dannie Bulman drove the 2010 promotion from midfield, then, astonishingly was thrown to the dogs by Chris Wilder almost as soon as the following season started. Releasing Bulman was the biggest mistake Chris Wilder made at the club and it took months to recover. Bulman went on to defy Wilder’s view that he was washed up and is still in the Football League today.

37. Adam Chapman

It’s difficult to know whether trouble came looking for Adam Chapman or Adam Chapman went looking for trouble. After scoring one of the great goals in 2009 at Burton to spoilt their promotion party, he was Man of the Match in the Conference Play-Off Final a year laster. Days before it was announced he was set for a year in a Young Offenders Institute for causing death by reckless driving. He returned a more subdued character, but it didn’t stop him nearly missing a game burning his nipple on baby milk in 2012.

36. Jamie Mackie

No pace, no touch and he hardly ever scored; if Jamie Mackie hadn’t been Jamie Mackie, he’d have been boo’ed out of the club. But, whether it was his public health Tik Toks, endless complaints about fictitious elbows in the face or scoring a wonder goal in the 93rd minute against Bradford that changed absolutely everything and was his defining moment, there was so much to love about him.

35. Johnny Mullins

Fittingly, Johnny Mullins was known as Uncle Mulls; a player who knew his way around the lower leagues and provided the leadership and mentoring we needed when times got tough. His grafting dragged us through the end of the Wilder-years and the start of the Appleton reboot. Cruelly, and also fittingly, in that final season he went all Obiwan Kenobi; sacrificing himself to give way to his heir – Chey Dunkley. Dunkley is deferential to his mentor to this day.

34. Marvin Johnson

Marvin Johnson seemed to be so out of our league one fan said he’s have his name tattooed on his forehead if he signed. And then he did; he could do everything, he had pace, strength and fitness. He was almost too good, like a wild animal, trying to hold onto him seemed futile, he lasted just one season – with a defining moment scoring a last minute wonder goal against Luton in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final – before signing for Middlesborough for a record £4m.

33. Gavin Whyte

Like the perfect golf swing, signing Gavin Whyte felt right from the moment it happened. Karl Robinson found a gap in the market that others couldn’t see. Whyte was plucked from the League of Ireland and was an instant hit with his direct running, close control and eye for goal. Even when we struggled he shone, though his defining moment may have been being caught filming his wanger on a night out. It was no surprise to see him sold to Cardiff after a season.

32. Peter Leven

When Chris Wilder turned to experience in 2012, Peter Leven was his genius in residence. When he was fit, Leven was the best in the division, with no greater illustration than his goal against Port Vale from the half-way line – his defining moment. Sadly, he wasn’t fit very often and so his talents rarely saw the light of day.

31. John Mousinho

When Curtis Nelson was injured in 2017, Pep Clotet signed John Mousinho from Burton Albion. Despite coming with a stellar reputation, after a few shaky performances he was written off as another of Clotet’s aged duds. A move into bolstering the midfield under Karl Robinson gave him the headspace to show his immense leadership qualities. His trademark rocket penalty, particularly the one which won the League Cup tie against Sunderland in 2019, was his key moment. Though his career is drawing to a close, under Karl Robinson Mousinho he’s grown to be an immense presence in the club.

30. Sam Long

Sam Long looked all set to be just another talented youth team player whose career would ultimately fizzle out. But while fighting some near career ending injuries, Chris Wilder, Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and Karl Robinson all saw there was something worth persevering with. In the intervening years, he’s progressed from marginal player to reliable back-up to regular first teamer. He’s now teetering on becoming one of the stars of the show.

29. Marcus Browne

Like Marvin Johnson, Marcus Browne was an immense physical specimen, a golden eagle who soared higher than others. He was originally signed on loan from West Ham and powered through defences. It was no surprise that Karl Robinson scrambled to re-sign him, then from Middlesborough, to fire up his promotion challenge in 2020.

28. Rob Hall

The destiny of Oxford United and Rob Hall are intertwined. He was first signed as a teenager on loan from West Ham in 2011 and was an instant hit with a slew of goals. He returned permanently in 2016 and despite a series of injuries he’s become beacon in the club. His defining moment came at Swindon in 2017 when he thunderous drive from 25 yards won the seventh derby in a row.

27. Mark Creighton

Somehow, the word Creighton feels onomatopoetic, when you consider the monstrous contribution The Beast played in getting us out of the Conference. There was no greater moment than his last minute winner in his debut against York in 2009. In truth, his 2010s career was limited to little more than half a season, but the aftershocks of his impact on the club are felt even today.

26. Joe Skarz

Some players are camera-ready stars, others just deliver. Joe Skarz was a dependable and no nonsense full-back who understood the value of hard work. His fitness levels were second to none and his sense of resolve was formidable. This was no better illustrated than having announced the end of his season because of injury, with promotion in the balance, he lifted himself from the physios bench sacrificing himself in a critical 2-0 win over Hartlepool.

25. Callum O’Dowda

Callum O’Dowda had everything, he was physically strong, had a great touch and a heavy dose of ambition. He broke through in the 2016 promotion squad and may have sat among the homegrown greats. His key moment was the last minute promotion clincher against Wycombe in 2016 – pure poetry. But, as soon as Bristol City came sniffing, he engineered his way into the Championship, had he stuck it out with Oxford a little longer, he’d have comfortably made the top 10.

24. Andy Whing

There was a time when all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Effort, competitiveness, 90 minutes of pure commitment, is that too much to ask? Nobody out-competed Andy Whing whether it was Edgar Davids or Ade Akinfenwa. Then, just when we thought we’d seen it all, he scored a spectacular overhead kick against Rochdale which cemented him into Oxford folklore.

23. Shandon Baptiste

Shandon Baptise seemed to glide around a football pitch. Nothing seemed too much trouble – thirty yard drives, sixty yard passes, weaving runs. With the ball at his feet nobody could stop him. There was no better illustration than his mazy run in the closing minutes to score Oxford’s 4th against West Ham in 2019.

22. Curtis Nelson

In the giddiness of post-promotion 2016, Michael Appleton seemed to get himself in a muddle – he had Jake Wright and Chey Dunkley, then he signed Aaron Martin, and then he got a chance to sign Curtis Nelson which was too much to turn down. The Nelson opportunity was so great, Jake Wright was eased out to make space. These were big shoes to fill. Did he film them? Yes, several times over.

21. Ricardinho

Pep Clotet’s army of overseas veterans didn’t bring much joy, but then there was the Brazilian Ricardinho. A full-back whose zest for life, effervescence and joie de vivre brought rare joy to a post-Michael Appleton hangover. Even his defining moment, a barbaric two footed lunge resulting in a red card was done with panache.

20. Simon Eastwood

If there was a weakness in the 2016 promotion team it was in goal, when Michael Appleton signed one-time understudy to Ryan Clarke, Simon Eastwood, from Blackburn Rovers there were those who thought he’d lost his mind. But, it was soon clear he’d bought a diamond; Eastwood grew to become not only one of the best ‘keepers of the decade, but among the best the club has ever had. There was no greater illustration of this than by his penalty save against Newcastle in the FA Cup in 2018.

19. Alex Gorrin

If there’s one thing Karl Robinson loves, it’s a pacey winger. But Oxford United can only play with their attacking swagger because they have a beast in the middle keeping order. Alex Gorrin is both law and order in the Oxford midfield and we love him for it.

18. Liam Sercombe

Liam Sercombe had broad shoulders; literally and metaphorically – when you needed someone to take responsibility, he was your man. His marauding style bagged seventeen goals in our promotion season including an absolute banger at Carlisle on the penultimate weekend of the season – his pièce de résistance.

17. Ryan Clarke

Every team needs a Ryan Clarke, an unflinchingly dependable man between the sticks. Regardless of whether his defence was solid as a rock or porous as a sponge, when Clarke was in goal, you knew you had a chance.

16. Alex MacDonald

Even the fieriest of furnaces start with the strike of a match. When things were falling apart in Michael Appleton’s first season, it was the signing of MacDonald from Burton that signalled a change of fortune. He dragged the team around and pointed it in the right direction. The team that was built around him was full of heroes and MacDonald sat as an equal with all of them.

15. Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter didn’t always start games, he didn’t always influence games, but when it mattered, he was there. The last minute against York City in the play-off final, the 85th minute against Swindon Town in the JPT or the whole destruction of Portsmouth on the opening day of the season in 2013. For many, this was Alfie Potter’s decade.

14. Matty Taylor

The one that nearly got away; locally born Matty Taylor slipped away unnoticed in 2009, but grew into a goalscorer full of guile. In 2019 he returned home older, wiser and better, adding a new dimension to us as an attacking force.

13. Josh Ruffels

Some players fit a manager’s style, some players can simply adapt. Josh Ruffels made his debut under Chris Wilder before turning out for Gary Waddock, Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and Karl Robinson. He moved from midfield to full-back and never missed a step. While others came and went, Ruffels kept developing, establishing himself as a key player and one of the best of the decade. His iconic moment was in 2019 and a looping last minute drive against Wycombe which was the hallmark of Lionel Messi.

12. Ryan Ledson

Ryan Ledson looked about fourteen but could tackle like a lion and pass like Glenn Hoddle. What really endeared him to Oxford fans was the way he just loved to play. Whether it was beating Swindon or smashing in a last minute winner at Charlton, Ryan Ledson brought us alive.

11. Rob Dickie

Sure, Rob Dickie arrived as a player with potential, he was dependable, studious and strong. But, nobody expected him to evolve into a modern-day Franz Beckenbaur. His key moment was a commanding performance against Manchester City where he kept Raheem Sterling quiet for 90 minutes.

10. Jake Wright

Jake Wright was many things; defender, leader, the epicentre of the club’s rise from the Conference and then from League 2. His calmness and quiet authority kept the heart of the club beating. Just one word encapsulates all of that: Skip.

9. James Henry

Sometimes James Henry seems to drift around the margins of a game, while others go to war, he sits back; calculating, pondering and strategising. Then, as others lose their heads, hearts and legs, he finds another gear, collects the ball and fires a rapier 60 yard pass that’ll win the game.

8. George Baldock

George Baldock could turn a man’s knees to jelly as quickly as he could turn defence into attack. He signed on loan from MK Dons, went away again, signed again and went away again. But we still love him.

7. Danny Hylton

Promotion in 2016 was built on Michael Appleton’s cold science; but no Big Blue computer would be able to figure out Danny Hylton. Gary Waddock’s only signing carried Appleton’s team through his first difficult season but even when the science started to work, Hylton couldn’t be contained. A remarkable career.

6. John Lundstram

John Lundstram is a master of cartography; he could find new angles and discover new routes to goal at will. No Oxford fan will forget the majesty of his distribution.

5. Cameron Brannagan

Signed from Liverpool Cameron Brannagan should have been too big for Oxford. Sign, develop, move, it was practically written on his forehead. But, that’s not what Cameron Brannagan is about; Cameron Brannagan gets it and gets us. And we get him, big time.

4. Chey Dunkley

There was no better story during the 2016 promotion season than Chey Dunkley’s; he started the season as third choice centre back behind John Mullins and Jake Wright, was nearly got sent off in his debut against Bristol Rovers. But then he grew and grew and grew. By the end of the season he was first on the teamsheet scoring the crucial breakthrough goal against Wycombe that took us to promotion. There truly ain’t nobody, like Chey Dunkley.

3. Chris Maguire

Oxford is a nice club, we do things the right way, we play by the rules, then Chris Maguire rode in on his Harley Davidson, smoking a roll-up, took off his Aviator sun glasses and taught us the joy of the dark side. Chris Maguire didn’t run games, he didn’t win them them, he Chris Maguired them.

2. James Constable

There are good players in this list, there are great players, but true legends are few and far between. James Constable is etched into Oxford folklore, talismanic, loyal, someone who loved the club as much as they loved him. After a decade of despondency and false hope, he didn’t so much get Oxford out of the Conference as raise us from the dead.

1. Kemar Roofe

In some ways, describing Kemar Roofe as the best player of the decade under-sells him. He didn’t just operate at a different level, but at in a different dimension. He drifted assuringly into the club with an army of other loanees, just another player with promise set to disappoint. Then, he scored a goal and another, and more. Fittingly, in the 2016 promotion season, he was a striker who wore the number 4, it didn’t make sense. But then, in many ways, Kemar Roofe didn’t make sense at Oxford at all, he was just too good, he transcended us, and that’s why he’s the player of the decade.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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