At a time when games are coming thick and fast, picking up injuries could have a major impact on results. For Oxford United, they have lost five first team’s players to injury over just the last few games.
Midfielder Marcus McGuane has been ruled out for the season, while James Henry isn’t due back until Easter. The U’s have been handed further blows with Sam Winnall, Elliot Lee and Sam Long all picking up knocks in the last two games.
With the U’s mounting a promotion charge, the club will be hopeful that these key injuries won’t derail their push for the playoffs.
Oxford United Injury List Could Cause Season Derailment
Key Players Out Through Injury
The five players currently sidelined have all been key performers for Karl Robinson this season. Before his injury against Bristol Rovers in late January, Nottingham Forest loanee Marcus McGuane had impressed in his 20 appearances. Since his loss, Robinson has failed to select the same midfield three on more than one occasion, highlighting how much of an impact the 22-year-old had in the centre of the park.
Although James Henry hasn’t hit the heights of previous campaigns, he is still a miss. As one of the senior players on the pitch, he can also change the game in an instant. Form and recurring injuries have prevented him from having another stellar season but the squad is less effective without him in it.
As for Sam Winnall, he simply hasn’t got going this season but given that the U’s only have two natural centre forwards, it’s still a big miss. The summer signing has struggled with injury since his arrival at Oxford United and, although he has turned out 16 times this season, most of his appearances have come from the bench. However, with Matty Taylor having not found the back of the net in 11 games, the presence of Winnall has been noticable, and he has contributed three important goals during that time.
The two latest injuries are yet to be given a timeframe but are also big losses. Elliot Lee only arrived on deadline day in January, but the Luton Town loanee has played a part in all seven league games since he joined. He has netted twice and shown signs of what he is capable of throughout.
As for Sam Long, he will also be a big miss. The Oxford-born defender has managed 34 appearances in all competitions this season, laying on four assists and scoring three goals. The right-back missed two league games earlier this season through a hamstring injury and a recurrence looks likely to keep him out.
Absent Players Coincides With Loss of Form
Oxford United have failed to win in their last five games and even found that a couple of the performances before that run didn’t necessarily reflect in the results. It’s no surprise then that the dip in form has coincided with five first-team players missing through injury.
The U’s last win came against Wigan Athletic on Valentine’s Day. McGuane, Henry and Long all missed out, but Lee and Winnall played a part, with the latter scoring in the game.
Season to Derail?
While Oxford United find themselves just six points off the playoffs, the latest setbacks could begin to derail their campaign.
Recently, the U’s recorded a club-record nine successive wins in all competitions and suffered just two losses from 17 games. That form lifted Karl Robinson’s side from struggling at the wrong end of the table to pushing for the playoffs.
While a top-six finish is still achievable, the U’s boss will be hopeful that the absent players won’t dent his side’s promotion charge.
Squad Depth is Important
Oxford have a relatively solid squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and Robinson has like for like replacements. Cameron Brannagan returned from his own injury just in time to replace McGuane but the U’s boss needs a reliant and consistent partner in the middle of the park. Liam Kelly has turned out over 20 times this season but his performances have been inconsistent. However, Robinson can also turn to Anthony Forde, Jamie Hanson, and Mark Sykes to cover.
Henry has played as both a winger and in the middle this season. While his absence leaves short in both areas, the U’s still have cover. On the right, Lee had been starting ahead of the 31-year-old but even with his absence, Robinson can turn to Forde, Sykes, Brandon Barker, Mide Shodipo, Rob Hall or Dan Agyei. The latter can also cover for Winnall as the number nine.
Even in Long’s case, Forde and Hanson can both cover at right-back or Robinson even has the players to play three at the back with two wing-backs, although this seems unlikely.
Importance and Versatility of Squad Players
Forde, Sykes and Hanson have the opportunity to showcase their versatility in the absence of the injured five. Forde, in particular, is a unique player.
Although the 27-year-old has struggled to tie down a permanent position, his versatility makes him a key player. Throughout his Oxford tenure, he has covered Long at right-back, he can play in the middle alongside Brannagan and can also feature on the right-wing position as a replacement for Henry or Lee.
And Sykes is similar. Bar the defensive role, the 23-year-old can play anywhere along the midfield – both flanks, centrally and even as a number ten.
While both players can cover in the attacking areas, Hanson is more defensive-minded. The former Derby County man can also play both as a right-back but also a centre back and can cover in a central or defensive midfield role.
Dan Agyei is also presented with the opportunity to cover. The former Burnley man has also failed to secure a position. Often deployed as a winger, Agyei replaced Winnall as a striker when he picked up his injury and excelled in a central role, leaving him as an option for cover of any of the front three positions.