AS Oxford United’s hectic fixture schedule begins to take its toll, Premier League-level technology is being used to help boss Michael Appleton field his strongest possible side.
A run of five successive midweek games is testing a small squad, which is suddenly accumulating a series of niggling injuries.
With stakes high in the promotion race, United can ill-afford to lose a star player for several weeks at such an important time.
In a bid to avoid such setbacks, they have recently agreed a new partnership with Oxford Brookes University.
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United’s players have been fitted with GPS trackers, which logs every movement during games.
After running for several weeks, it is proving very useful.
Appleton, who rested winger Alex MacDonald in midweek due to concerns over his physical condition, said: “From previous clubs I’ve worked at in the Championship and Premier League, I’ve always used that and it’s been great to give you an indication of whose workloads are going through the roof.
“We have a couple of players who might not have done anything for a small period and all of a sudden they have a massive workload, which can mean a risk of injury.
“Football these days is very analytical and data-based.
“We would have managed it as best as we could ourselves with sight alone anyway, but when you have the opportunity to use this type of device, it’s a nobrainer.”
The technology is prohibitively expensive for clubs at Sky Bet League Two level.
But a deal with Oxford Brookes means they can use it for free, with the club making the data available to students.
“It works for both, they get hands-on experience and it’s a fantastic tool,” Appleton said “Once you get five or six games under your belt you get an understanding of the average for each player.
“So if the readings change over a couple of games you know he’s worked a bit hard there.
“If he is down, is there a reason?
Is he fatigued? Is he carrying an injury, or just didn’t feel great in that game?”
- Scott Daly (in grey) analyses the GPS readings for each player
United are not the only club in the division to have access to the technology, but it is still a rarity.
The players themselves have taken a keen interest on the statistics, which are broken down for them by the club’s lead sports scientist, Scott Daly.
Centre back Johnny Mullins said: “Scott Daly is brilliant.
It’s personalised for you to look at distance, high-speed running and things like that.
“It’s another tool, especially at this level because it’s not the norm.”
So are the players ever tempted to massage their readings?
“That has been mentioned a few times, when you see us score a goal and lads are doing four or five sprints,” Mullins said.
“It goes the other way if people are doing too much.
“I haven’t been put in that category yet.”
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