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Strengthening Oxford United squad is new chief executive Mark Ashton's priority

Oxford Mail: Darryl Eales (left) and Mark Ashton share a joke as they pose for pictures at the Kassam Stadium yesterday      Picture: Ed Nix Darryl Eales (left) and Mark Ashton share a joke as they pose for pictures at the Kassam Stadium yesterday Picture: Ed Nix

HELPING to recruit the right players to improve the Oxford United squad will dominate Mark Ashton’s first weeks as chief executive – with attacking players top of the agenda.

The 42-year-old intends to play a role in advancing the club in all areas, from youth development to the commercial side of the business.

But with the start of the Sky Bet League Two season just five weeks away, he is well aware Michael Appleton needs to hit the ground running when he takes over as head coach on Monday morning.

So far Danny Hylton is the only addition United have sealed this summer.

Yesterday joint owner Ian Lenagan revealed the plan had been to only add one more signing, but the new investment injected by Darryl Eales means there is greater scope to bolster the playing staff.

While a radical shake-up of the squad is not being planned, Ashton is well aware areas need to be strengthened.

“We’ve got to focus in the short-term on the playing squad,” he said.

“We will look to add, I’ve already had some discussions with Michael.

“He’ll be honest and there are a number of players who’ve left the squad since the end of last season and between those players there’s over 30 goals gone out of the team.

“We’re very aware of where we need to strengthen, but we’ve got to be sure it’s strengthened in the right way.

“There’s no point recruiting players for the sake of it. Sensible funds will be made available to strengthen us.”

While Appleton will be starting his squad building two months after the rest of the clubs in Sky Bet League Two, Ashton does not believe it gives United a problem.

He said: “Not really, it goes back to the club being run well.

“Ian hasn’t left himself in a position where he’s got 14 players out of contract.

“It’s an evolution of the squad, so I don’t think there’s anything we can’t cope with in that respect.

“The transfer window goes on after the start of the season as well.”

There is also the potential for fresh blood on the coaching staff.

Andy Melville has not been replaced since leaving as first-team coach in May.

Former West Brom defender Darren Moore, who was part of Appleton’s staff at Blackburn Rovers in 2013, has been linked with becoming United’s new assistant manager, although yesterday Ashton indicated nothing was decided.

He said: “Initially Michael will come in and we’ll take it from there.

“There’s no rush, there are good coaches here, so let’s evolve it.”

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