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New era dawns for 'robust' U's
The writing was on the wall for the majority of the dozen players released by Oxford United yesterday when chairman Ian Lenagan spoke of the need for “robust” players last week.
It came up several times in interviews following the announcement manager Chris Wilder had signed a new contract and is likely to be the buzz word of the summer.
For the last two seasons, United have had a team well capable of getting into the play-offs, but injuries have meant all too often a significant chunk of the best XI have made their biggest impact on the treatment table rather than the league table.
A third such campaign will simply not be tolerated and the players released show the club want to move in another direction.
One of the key attributes for transfer targets this summer will be their fitness record, in the hope Wilder is able to make more consistent selections next season.
It makes sense, but it is a real shame to see a player of Peter Leven’s class allowed to leave.
The Scot is richly talented and when on form there are few in League Two who come close, but he exits with his potential largely unfulfilled.
He played 67 games in two seasons, but many of those appearances came while managing one injury or another.
Michael Duberry, Liam Davis, Jon-Paul Pittman and Tom Craddock similarly have the ability to make important contributions at this level, but all have missed too many games to be relied upon under the new regime.
The departures of Tony Capaldi, Josh Parker, Simon Heslop and Justin Richards will have raised few eyebrows following spells defined by injuries, indifferent form, or both.
Harry Worley can feel a little hard done by not to have played more games over the last two seasons, but will make a good signing for someone.
Luke McCormick is also unlikely to be short of offers after a steady spell, but considering Max Crocombe’s progress, it made no sense to keep a fourth goalkeeper in the squad.
That leaves Damian Batt, whose release was met with the most surprise.
His exit cannot have been based on fitness concerns – more than 170 appearances is a good return in four and a half years, particularly from such an athletic player.
Of the players retained, Alfie Potter and Andy Whing were always going to stay.
Scott Davies has shown enough in a short period to warrant offering a contract, while Deane Smalley can consider himself a fortunate to be in talks after just seven goals in two season.
It has been a bold start to the close season from Wilder and Lenagan, but now the hard work really starts ahead of what is guaranteed to be a hectic summer of recruitment.
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