Wednesday, 1 February 2012

In Profile: January Signings

In truth, the Januray transfer window has been more about shifting players on than bringing new ones in for Oxford United. However, four fresh faces have arrived at Grenoble Road during this period, so here is a (not so) brief introduction to them.

Matthew Fletcher

Technically, Matthew Fletcher isn't a 'January signing', as he joined the club as a free agent back in December. However, I'll include him in this list anyway, as his signing was close enough to the January window to be relevant.

Australian-born Fletcher began playing football in 1998 with Curl Curl Youth Club, where he progressed rapidly and was picked up by local side Manly United. After progressing through the youth system there the 16-year-old Fletcher came to Britain, where he had trials with several top flight clubs in England and Scotland, eventually signing with Sunderland – Roy Keane's first signing at the North-East club. Fletcher soon established himself as a prolific scorer in the Academy league, not only scoring regularly but registering plenty of assists as well, breaking into the Sunderland reserve side as he matured.

Fletcher's good form at Sunderland did not go unnoticed back home and he was soon called up to represent the Australian under-19s at the Asian Championships in China. Fletcher scored twice, with Australia reaching the final, where they were unlucky to lose to North Korea. He also joined the Australian under-20s at the World Cup in Colombia, but was an unused substitute in all matches and Australia exited the competition in the group stages.

Following his release from Sunderland, Fletcher attracted a lot of interest from A-League clubs, but chose to return to England. He joins United on a 'short-term contract', which presumably means until the end of the season and is essentially an extended trial. His chances seem likely to depend on whether he impresses in training and on the amount of cover available up front. It seems that Wilder is taking a punt here, but Fletcher has demonstrated a lot of potential and, despite his lack of senior experience, has obviously impressed at youth level, so would seem to be worth taking a chance on.

Oli Johnson

Oli Johnson joined the club earlier in January from Premier League side Norwich City after having his contract terminated by mutual consent. Johnson's path into professional football was perhaps slightly unusual, playing Sunday League football for Shepherd's Arms FC in the Wakefield & District Sunday League, before joining Nostell Miners Welfare of the Northern Counties East Football League (Tier 9), where he scored nine goals during the 07/08 season.

Johnson's career really took off when the Welfare played a pre-season friendly against Stockport County, then of League One. He impressed enough in that match to earn himself a trial and subsequently his first pro contract, aged 20, marking a staggering leap from Sunday League to the third tier in little over a year. Johnson's impact was immediate, scoring four goals in his first four starts for the Hatters. His good form continued throughout the season, attracting interest from West Brom and Fulham at the end of the season.

However, Johnson remained at Edgeley Park until the following January, when he departed the crisis club for promotion-chasing Norwich City. He again made a good start at his new club, scoring on his first start for the Canaries. Soon after, his status at Norwich was confirmed when he came off the bench against Southend with his side trailing 1-0 to net the equaliser and then a dramatic last-minute winner. With Norwich winning promotion at the end of that season, Johnson struggled to assert himself at Championship level and spent much of last season out on loan at Yeovil Town.

Johnson has been described as a 'flair player' and his higher league experience may give him the edge over Alfie Potter in that department and he could be especially useful late on in matches when our opponents are tiring.

Scott Rendell

Rendell, signed on loan until the end of the season from 'local rivals' Wycombe, is a player who will already be quite familiar to Oxford fans, having featured against us several times. Rendell's career began on the books at Aldershot, but he crossed the border to Reading before making an appearance for them after being scouted by the Championship side. He was, however, unable to break into the team there and was loaned out several times – first back to Aldershot, then to Forest Green (scoring their first goal as a professional outfit) and Hayes, before signing for Crawley Town following a successful loan spell. The following summer, with Crawley in financial trouble, he transferred to Cambridge, where he became a prolific scorer in a side that would finish second in the Conference.

Rendell, however, did not finish that season at the Abbey Stadium, moving to local rivals Peterborough United in February after scoring 17 goals for the 'other Us'. Cambridge had initially turned down Posh's offer, but were forced to relent when Rendell submitted a transfer request. His time at London Road proved to be a frustrating one, and after signing permanently for Posh at the end of the 07/08 season, Rendell would go on to make just three appearances for the club as he struggled to oust Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean from the team. By November 2008 Rendell was back at Cambridge, on loan from Peterborough following a brief stop at Yeovil. Back at Cambridge Rendell refound his scoring boots, his 15 goals helping them to another second-place finish and another playoff final.

That summer Rendell signed for Torquay, who had beaten his Cambridge side just two months before in the Conference playoff final, on a season long loan. Having proven himself in the Conference he then proved he could score in the Football League, his 13 goals helping Torquay acclimatise to the higher level.

Wycombe, newly relegated to League Two, signed Rendell permanently for the 10/11 season. He was an ever-present for the Buckinghamshire club, finishing the season as top scorer with 15 goals and firing the Chairboys to promotion. However, events on the field were overshadowed by tragedy off it, Rendell and his partner losing their premature baby boy Alfie on Christmas Eve.

This season has seen Rendell struggle to earn his place in the Wycombe side and he has again found himself bombed out on loan, firstly to Bristol Rovers (he was part of the side that were beaten comprehensively at the Kassam back in October) and now, of course, to us. He has consistently scored goals at this level which, given the poor return of most of our strikers, can only be a positive for us.

Mark Wilson

Scunthorpe-born Wilson came through the youth ranks at Manchester United, and though his opportunities were limited there, he did make three appearances for the club in the Champions League during the 1999-2000 season, as well as earning a call-up to the England Under-21 squad. In 2001 then-Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren paid £1.5 million to secure the services of Wilson, though he would again find his opportunities limited, spending much of his four years at the club out on loan – at Stoke, Swansea, Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster and then Livingston.

Wilson's career had been unsettled so far, but he then chose the upheaval of a move abroad, signing for MLS side FC Dallas. Though starting opportunities were limited, he established himself in the Dallas squad at the tail-end of his first season at the club, and started the following season as a regular before being sidelined with tendonitis. He left America in November 2006 (at the end of the MLS season) and rejoined Doncaster, where he had previously enjoyed a brief loan spell.

Having led a somewhat nomadic lifestyle up to this point Wilson settled in Doncaster and went on to represent them for five years, making over a hundred appearances for Rovers during that time. An early highlight of his time at Donny was their 2007 JPT victory over Bristol Rovers at the Millennium Stadium. The following season Doncaster were promoted to the Championship, though Wilson missed the end of that campaign, but he returned to the side as a regular in their first season and over the next few seasons would rack up more than 80 Championship appearances.

This season, Wilson has struggled to get regular appearances for Doncaster and spent November out on loan at Walsall. Upon his return to Doncaster, his contract was terminated by mutual consent and he signed for Oxford later that day. The signing recalls the similar move made last year, when Paul McLaren joined in January to add some much-needed experience to the side. He appears to be a similar type of player as well, sitting just in front of the defence in a holding midfield position, and playing the simple, neat football. However, being a couple of years younger and fresh from the Championship, Wilson would appear to be the superior choice.


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