WHEN asked to contemplate what lies ahead for him in 2015, Mark Oxley knows he cannot answer with any degree of certainty. The Hibernian goalkeeper is not even sure where he will be after January, with his loan deal from Hull City due to expire next month.
There is little doubt where he would like to be. His spell at Hibs has been an undoubted success. It has allowed him to continue developing in the public eye, for better or for worse.
A goal with a kick from his own box against Livingston early in the season saw him showered with praise. On the flip side of the coin, a terrible mistake when he allowed the ball to run between his legs against Alloa Athletic meant he was forced to accept criticism. But he has done this all in the public eye and, by his own estimation, has become a better goalkeeper for it.
Something else he has learned is to respect Scottish football, even in the second tier. And he isn’t referring only to Hearts and Rangers, two clubs who, financial problems aside, would otherwise be expected to be in the top flight. He has been impressed with the depth of quality in the league, something Hibs have learned to their cost at times.
“I have gained experience playing up here which I had never done before,” said Oxley. “I have thoroughly enjoyed it since I have been here.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came up but the standard of football has been great. I think if you looked at the league as an outsider you would single out ourselves, Rangers and Hearts. But that’s not the case at all,” he continued. “We’ve found over the season you’re going to get tough games wherever you go. Saturday was a tough game at Raith and I thought we did well to come through it in the end.
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“So the standard has been good. Getting to play against massive clubs like Rangers and Hearts was a big attraction for me. That’s what you thrive on so I am looking forward to it.”
He describes Hibs as having come on “leaps and bounds” since the first weeks of the season, when, a win at Ibrox apart, the team saw their title hopes begin to unstitch courtesy of four quick defeats. Hearts, of course, continue to set the pace after their win over Cowdenbeath in midweek, but Oxley does not view the Tynecastle side, who Hibs play next weekend, as unbeatable. Before that is tomorrow’s clash against troubled Rangers, whose lead over Hibs can be cut to just four points should the Easter Road side win. Oxley knows there is still much to play for.
“If you look at the games we’ve played against Hearts I don’t think we’ve been far off them,” he said. “We fancy ourselves against anyone in this league so we have just got to keep going. It’s not a matter of looking above us, it’s looking at ourselves and what we can do to get where we need to be. And I think if we keep doing the things we have been in recent weeks we won’t be far off.
“This is the time of season that things open up and you start to see where teams are likely to finish. I wouldn’t say the games become more important because every game is important. But you get to a stage where you are looking at the table and looking at what you need to do and where you need to be. But we’ll just do what we have been in recent weeks. And we know if we keep performing we’ll be in with a shout.”
Hibs’ form now is unrecognisable compared to the start of the season. “From where we were then to now it’s a different team,” Oxley said. “I wouldn’t say we have regrets because you go into every game giving your everything. But it is disappointing when you look back at games and think you should have picked up something here and something there.”
While they might have been expected to be doing slightly better, Hibs have not been under the type of scrutiny endured by Rangers during this campaign. Oxley admits he has been surprised to learn the full extent of the club’s problems since he arrived in Scotland during the summer.
“It has been an eye opener,” he admitted. “You probably don’t look at it as much when you are down south. But when you are up here you realise Rangers are a massive club and you see what’s going on there. It’s a bit of a shame really.”
As for the question of his own future, he says he is in the dark. He knows what he wants to do – stay and complete the season at Hibs.
“I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said. “I spoke to the gaffer here and he asked the question and I just told him I was enjoying it and if he was happy for me to stay then I would be happy to. So I am just waiting to see what happens.
“I think my agent has spoken to Hull and they are happy for me to stay. And while I am enjoying it up here there really is no reason for me to go back.”
It hasn’t escaped his notice that Hull boss Steve Bruce finds himself installed as one of the leading contenders to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season, after a run of six defeats in eight games.
“That’s what I mean, you never know what is going to happen so you can’t guess,” said Oxley. “That’s just part and parcel of the game. You just have to concentrate on what is put in front of you and that’s what we are doing at the moment.”
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