With just 16 days to go until the start of the 2013/14 Skybet League Two season, I have the familiar pre-season optimism that I feel every summer. This year though, I feel I have more reasons to feel such hope ahead of the opening fixture away at Portsmouth. Chris Wilder has made some strong signings (on paper anyway). Experience defensive duo David Hunt and Tom Newey have joined to fill the full back positions vacated by the (surprise) exits of Damian Batt and Liam Davis.
Highly-rated defender/midfielder Jon Meades has been brought in from AFC Bournemouth after a successful loan spell at AFC Wimbledon whilst former players Danny Rose and Asa Hall have returned to the Kassam Stadium from Fleetwood Town and Shrewsbury Town respectively. Rose is a very different player to the one who left Oxford five years ago. Having dropped down the leagues after his release, Rose joined Newport County where he was part of a Conference South championship winning side before moving on to be part of the Conference Premier winning side at Fleetwood. A loan spell at Aldershot also followed where he produced a number of highly praised performances. Hall rejoins just a season after leaving the U's, having scored 11 goals in 75 appearances in his previous two seasons at the club, the former Luton man turned down a new deal to sign for Shrewsbury in May 2012. He failed to hold down a regular spot in League One and joined Aldershot on loan in February 2013 making 16 appearances before the season was out. He joins until January on a loan deal. Rose and Hall are good players to have in and around the first team although I can't imagine them to be first team regulars to begin with. I anticipate Scott Davies and Andy Whing controlling the midfield in the early part of the season.
The headline signing so far has been Dave Kitson, it was only five years ago that the target man striker signed for Stoke City for £5.5m after making his name at Reading where he scored 54 goals in 135 appearances. Having scored 12 goals in League One at Sheffield United last season, Oxford fans have every right to expect the big man to score his fair share alongside James Constable this season.
Chairman Ian Lenagan has invested in the youth development at the Kassam Stadium with the introduction of an U21 Development squad that will see the likes of Tyrone Marsh and Max Crocombe who have already made a handful of first team appearances between them joined by first year professionals Sam Long, David Lynn and Callum O'Dowda. Chris Wilder has also signed 3 players to go straight into this squad with the aim of pushing for first team places as well; Josh Shama, a midfielder from Reading, Matty Bevans, a defender from Watford and Kenzer Lee, a centre-back from West Ham have all joined during the close-season.
Realistically, I think we are still a couple of signings away from a very good squad, a commanding centre-back to challenge Michael Raynes for the place alongside Wright and another central midfielder - preferably a creative one. As per usual, the Yellows Forum has been trying to name such players and probably coming nowhere near.
There is no doubt that Chris Wilder needs a good start and to be honest a good middle and end to the season as there are still many who will press play on the "Wilder Out" track if things start derailing too quickly. We weren't a million miles away last season and the new mix of experience and youth leaves me feeling very hopeful about our promotion prospects this season. If we can figure out how to win games in Yorkshire and stop being inconsistent at being inconsistent then this could be the year we return to League One. Here's Hoping!
Win or Lose - Up the U's.