It's a good time to be an Oxford United supporter, as we all bask in what has been an ideal start to the season. However, perhaps the most interesting facet of our early success has been the players who have made it happen.
The few new signings that have been brought in have performed well and seem to have added some extra quality to the side, with Jake Forster-Caskey and Michael Raynes particularly impressing. But perhaps some of the most impressive players so far were already at the club. Whether through injury or simply poor form, some of our players suffered a miserable time last season, but this year seem determined to make their mark.
Chief among those is Deane Smalley. It's no secret that Smalley had a terrible season last year, scoring a paltry two goals and being voted 'Worst Signing' in the TBFUTH Awards. His ineffectual performances were compounded by the fact that so much was expected of him before the season started, and one could almost sense his despair as he struggled make an impact in the cluster of matches he played in.
This season he seems a changed man. His pre-season form was impressive, scoring three goals against West Ham, Didcot and Seacoast United Mariners, but hopes that he would have a better season were muted (he scored four goals in pre-season last year). I have no idea what has changed in the off-season, but Smalley is playing with huge amounts of confidence at the moment. An unknowing observer wouldn't have known that Smalley was coming off the back of such a poor season as he stepped up to confidently slot away his penalty against Bournemouth, nor when he netted his two beautifully taken goals against Plymouth. Smalley's influence on the team was such that the side's performance notably dropped after he was substituted at half time. After four matches Smalley has now equalled his tally in 39 (including his loan spell at Bradford) last season. The transformation has been immense and long may it continue.
Tommy Craddock is another player who has started the season in blistering form. He set the goalscoring trend with his brace against Southend, and has looked dangerous every time he has played this season. Last season was a total write-off for Craddock, beset with injury throughout the season he failed to impress when he did manage to limp onto the field (a particular lowlight being his sending off in the JPT defeat to Southend, just seven minutes after coming on). He managed just one goal in ten appearances, but already has two in four this season.
Our strikeforce underperformed hugely last season. James Constable's total of 11 was poor for him, but none of our other strikers even came close to matching that. With Constable still misfiring, it's good to see that our other strikers have stepped up and filled the void. I've written before that we desperately need a dedicated attacking coach, but if our strikers continue with their current vein of form, I may retract those words!