With no actual football to keep us occupied, the big news recently has been the loan signing of Mehdi Kerrouche from rivals Swindon Town. With the current strikeforce letting us down so far this season, manager Chris Wilder has moved to address the problem by signing several attack-minded players. With this in mind, Youcef El Barhdadi runs the rule over our new signing and assesses what new-boy Kerrouche can bring to our attacking options.
As of last Wednesday, Mehdi Kerrouche has signed a one month loan contract at Oxford United from Swindon Town. Anyone who knows me, knows of my disdain for Swindon Town, and specifically their manager, Paolo Di Canio. So, for Oxford to take a player from their squad pleases me. But a player of Mehdi Kerrouche's ability? I am delighted.
Kerrouche fell out with Di Canio back in December when he was substituted after 26 minutes against Colchester in the FA Cup and dropped from the first team squad for the following match against Southend. Di Canio indicated that he was not working hard enough and had become stagnant in the first team squad. Kerrouche clearly has undeniable ability having played in the second tier in both France and Portugal and has an acceptable strike record in both countries but his work ethic still does remain questionable. His first Swindon goal came in style with a 25 -yard free kick in the 3-1 loss to Southampton at The County Ground. After scoring against Southend in early September, he went on a run of five goals in eight games including two late goals against Crawley Town as Swindon beat them 3-0 away at Broadfield. Three of those five goals were headers and despite being under six foot, Kerrouche found the space against three physically imposing sides in Crawley, Barnet and Southend to nod home. November was less fruitful with only two goals, but Kerrouche still helped Swindon to important wins away at Port Vale and at home to Huddersfield.
Now, the French-born Algerian has an important role to fill for Oxford United over the next month. Oxford need another striker to be weighing in with a goals as they lack a true goalscoring threat if James Constable becomes unavailable for selection due to either injury or ill-discipline. Constable is currently off form and has not scored in six games and is still on nine for the season, with his last goal being on Boxing Day away at AFC Wimbledon. It has been nearly 600 minutes since he slotted past Seb Brown for that goal.
Peter Leven has been consistently outstanding in this Oxford side and is on six goals with every single one of them, bar a penalty against Bristol Rovers, being a technically excellent strike. His goals range from long range free-kicks to a dink over the keeper when played through to lobbing the goalkeeper from the half-way line. The latter is on a Soccer AM's shortlist for best goal of 2011 in the Football League. He's amassed ten assists already this season, which is the second best in League Two, meaning Oxford's strikeforce can enter any game confident of decent service if he plays. Kerrouche will need to work closely with Leven so he can anticipate any through balls, and if he is successful, it could be an extremely prosperous spell at the Kassam Stadium for Kerrouche. Peter Leven holds Oxford United's key for unlocking defences in this league.
Oxford signed serial loanee Scott Rendell on the January deadline day until the end of the season. This is the ninth different club he's had a temporary spell at. The next highest scoring striker still at the club is Jon-Paul Pittman, with three goals. He will be back in four weeks time after a hamstring injury, which is a shame for him as he was in good form with goals against Crawley, Aldershot and a 25 yard belter against Hereford recently. Kerrouche's loan is due to end when Pittman comes back, so it is up to Kerrouche to show Oxford manager Chris Wilder why he should keep him.
Robert Hall has six for the campaign and has endeared himself to the Oxford fans with his sharpness in and around the box with a lovely goal against Plymouth, winning a penalty against Bristol Rovers and a late winner in London against Dagenham & Redbridge, but West Ham are not willing to loan him back to Oxford after being recalled on the 21st of December.
Oli Johnson was signed early in the transfer window after he was released by Premier League outfit, Norwich City. He looks quick, but he will take time getting his sharpness back which could take about a month after playing reserve team football for Norwich for the last past year. His stats show he is a one in four striker, and from watching him play it appears that he is a very one dimensional striker and does not link play up well.
So, it will be up to Constable, Kerrouche and Rendell to decide the course of Oxford's season in this next 30-or-so days that contain eight fixtures.
Don't forget to check out Youcef's blog here.