FOR years now, it seems Oxford United have been on the hunt for a holding midfielder. A player who can do the dirty work and allow the forward players to shine.

Not since Alex Gorrin suffered the first of two nasty knee injuries back in November 2021 have United truly had a player in that mould.

There was hope last season that Jay Matete could fulfil that role, however his loan spell from Sunderland in January was cut short after just six games after he picked up a knee injury of his own.

However, in Will Vaulks, the U’s have got the defensive midfielder that fans have been pleading for.

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So what will the 30-year-old add to the United side as they prepare for life in the second tier of English football for the first time in 25 years?

First of all, Vaulks has got that all-important experience of playing in Sky Bet Championship.

He’s played in the second tier in six of the last eight seasons. He was promoted from League One in the other two.

Across his stints with Rotherham United, Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday, Vaulks has played 220 league games in the Championship.

Across the six campaigns, that averages out at just under 37 matches per season, proving he’s reliable and robust too, qualities the U’s will be depending on when the new campaign kicks off in August.

In Des Buckingham’s preferred system, Vaulks will likely play as the number six, the position Cameron Brannagan occupied in the 4-3-3 formation used in the final couple of months of the season just finished.

Vaulks’ arrival allows Brannagan to push on higher up the pitch, and play a more box-to-box role, with further creativity in the central area coming from a Tyler Goodrham or Ruben Rodrigues.

Buckingham though will almost surely have to be flexible next season, especially when coming up against the top sides in the Championship.

In those such games, don’t be surprised to see Vaulks partner Brannagan, or Marcus McGuane, in a double pivot with a No 10 in front of them.

Wales international Vaulks also grows the former Cardiff contingent at United.

Ciaron Brown and Mark Harris are already contracted to the U’s next season, while Joe Bennett and Josh Murphy will also hopefully be back in United colours if they sign new deals after the expiration of their current ones.

It’s understood that Vaulks’ signing has impressed Murphy, who the U’s are of course eager to keep hold of.

Vaulks is a very promising start to the summer transfer window, and also shows the club means business.

He was offered a new contract by Sheffield Wednesday, after an impressive campaign which saw him named the supporters’ player of the year.

More signings like him – solid, dependable, experienced players – will be welcomed with open arms.