Thursday, 17 November 2011

The All-Important Final Piece

Oxford fans awoke to good news yesterday, with reports that West Ham wonderkid Rob Hall has returned to Oxford on loan for a further month. In fact, it’s difficult to overstate how important he has been to us already this season. After 3 defeats in a row, news of Robbie’s return has immediately lifted spirits ahead of a difficult trip to Crawley, but most promising is that his return is “with a view to a longer stay”. If Hall’s services can be secured for the rest of the season, he could just be the final piece required to make a sustained tilt at automatic promotion this year.

Upon his arrival back in September, United were sat in 14th place after a slow start to the season and had failed to win in their previous three outings, suffering frustrating home draws against Aldershot and Burton either side of a depressing 3-1 defeat at Crewe. Despite initial reservations from some quarters about the wisdom of bringing in another loanee (especially after shipping out the recently-signed Jon-Paul Pittman), fans instantly warmed to Hall as he netted Oxford’s winner on his professional debut away at Dagenham.

Hall’s arrival brought about an instant upturn in form, making headlines after scoring another five goals during the rest of his 10-match stay. By the time he was recalled Oxford were in the automatic promotion places and looking well-placed ahead of a difficult run of matches. The three matches since Hall’s departure have seen three consecutive defeats and only one goal scored.

It may simply be coincidence that our form deserted us somewhat after Robbie’s recall – we still dominated away from home at Southend, and the two cup matches were freak occurrences that can mostly be written off – but Hall’s absence left a large hole in the front three and caused a genuine selection headache for Wilder. Danny Philliskirk, Deane Smalley and Tom Craddock have all tried and mostly failed to fill the teenager’s bright yellow boots.

Though it was disappointing that Hall was recalled – and particularly disappointing that he was unable to get on the pitch for West Ham – he hopefully won’t have lost match sharpness during his absence, as he made a substitute appearance for England U19s against Denmark, scoring a late winner to give the Young Lions a 1-0 victory.

The stats tell the true story of how important Hall could be to us this season. In the nine league matches he has played in, Oxford have secured 20 points. In the eight league matches when he hasn’t featured, we have acquired a mere 9 points. With Hall in the squad we have earned an average of more than 2.2 points per game, and if this were carried on throughout the season would probably be enough to earn us the title. Without him we have earned a paltry 1.125 points per match and this kind of points return carried over until May would most likely see us endure another season of frustration.

This demonstrates how potentially important Hall could be to our promotion hopes this season. Wilder and co deserve praise for getting him back again and if the indications are true and we are able to secure Hall’s services for the rest of the season they will have pulled off a major coup. I have little doubt that Hall is good enough to be playing at League One level now, but a longer term move to Oxford would possibly be more beneficial to his development. Hall is playing in a winning side that play a good style of football that is well suited to his development and he is evidently enjoying it. The arrangement should be mutually beneficial for all concerned…except for League Two defences, of course!


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