JOE Rothwell’s chances of staying at Oxford United beyond this season have gone up following Karl Robinson’s appointment as head coach.

Blackburn Rovers were interested in the 23-year-old during the January window, with United fending off a bid from Tony Mowbray’s side late on transfer deadline day.

It was felt Rothwell was likely to move on this summer once his two-year contract expired.

But Robinson used his first interview after becoming United boss last Thursday to set out ambitious plans to keep Rothwell, Ryan Ledson and Simon Eastwood, all of whom attracted bids in January.

And it appears to have struck a chord with the former Manchester United trainee, who revealed the new head coach had swung the balance towards staying.

“I think so, yes,” he said. “I’ve always got on quite well with the gaffer. Even when he’s been the opposition manager I’ve had a word with him and spoke to him after games.

“He’s someone I would have liked to have worked with and now he’s here hopefully it can happen.”

Keeping Rothwell would be a major boost for United.

The talented midfielder has made 78 appearances since turning down the chance to stay at Old Trafford in favour of signing for Michael Appleton in 2016.

Injuries in both hamstrings have hampered his progress since the turn of the year, but he returned to the side as a substitute in Sunday’s 3-0 defeat at Portsmouth.

Alex Mowatt’s red card in the game means a three-game ban, which opens the door for Rothwell to get back into the starting XI.

It comes at a vital time for United, who host fifth-placed Scunthorpe United tomorrow in a televised lunchtime kick-off (12.45) before visiting Sky Bet League One leaders Shrewsbury Town on Easter Monday.

There was a hope the U’s would be challenging for promotion themselves, but instead go into the weekend only five points above the relegation zone.

“That was one of the first things the gaffer said when he came in – with the talent and ability in this squad we’re nowhere near where we should be,” Rothwell said.

“At the start of the season our aim was the play-offs and we’ve fallen quite a way short of that.

“It’s something we’ll have to look at, adjust and hopefully next year we can be one of those teams fighting for the top-six.”