The Monday Profile: Robert Hall
Fair play to West Ham. They may have poached one of the lower leagues’ most prolific marksmen, Sam Baldock, from MK Dons but it’s not all take, take, take – on the contrary, they seem to be vigorously pursuing a policy of loaning out their youngsters to the benefit of both other clubs and the players themselves. Currently plying their trade in League 2 are defender Callum McNaughton (AFC Wimbledon) and midfielder Ahmed Abdulla (under the maverick tutelage of former Hammer Paolo Di Canio at Swindon), while full-back Jordan Brown has spent a month at Aldershot. But their League 2 loanee making the most headlines is undoubtedly Robert Hall.
On 12th September the England U18 forward left the Hammers’ Youth House (run by a couple called Bob and Val, which makes it sound like a cross between a borstal and a B&B in Bognor) and signed up for a temporary spell with Oxford. He made an instant impression for Chris Wilder’s men, scoring a debut goal to secure a 1-0 victory at Dagenham & Redbridge, and followed it up by grabbing another 1-0 winner at Hereford, the first goal in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success against Aldershot and a deflected 94th-minute equaliser at Macclesfield. All four strikes came away from home, but on Tuesday night against Plymouth he finally treated the Kassam crowd to the sight of a bulging net.
Hall’s first was a neat piece of opportunism, the striker showing no mercy and rifling the ball home after Pilgrims ‘keeper Jake Cole had reacted well to repel Alfie Potter’s header. His second, though, was sublime, a perfectly judged volley from a right-wing cross that restored Oxford’s lead and gave them the platform to go on and rack up a further three goals against the demoralised teenagers and twentysomethings of the division’s basement club.
Nimble and fleet of foot, Hall looked more than capable of creating chances for himself rather than being reliant on quality service and delivery, too. He regularly enjoyed taking on defenders on the left corner of the penalty box in a manner reminiscent of former Hammer Jermain Defoe, on one occasion in the first half tricking his way into the area and curling a shot just wide of the far post. It was the sort of audacious flash of skill and inspiration which would have had his namesake Stuart in a paroxysm of excitement, and which drew oohs and applause from Lanterne Rouge and I, momentarily forgetting where we were – i.e. stationed with Lloyd in amongst the Green Army.
Hall proved an excellent complement for his fellow Us forwards James Constable – direct, powerful and predatory – and Potter, revelling in the space afforded to him by incessantly running at the Plymouth back four. While necessity and circumstance have forced the Pilgrims into blooding a whole host of callow youngsters, Hall is no doubt benefiting from being surrounded by teammates with nous and experience in abundance, like Constable, Peter Leven and Michael Duberry. (That said, the latter didn’t show much of either when poleaxing Jared Sims for the penalty that Simon Walton tucked away.)
The question now is of what happens when the loan ends and Hall returns to Upton Park, the recipient of an Oxford education that might actually be practical and useful. Does he stand a chance of forcing his way into the frame for the Hammers’ first team? Saturday’s evidence would suggest that Baldock is finding his feet in the Championship, but with Carlton Cole and Frederic Piquionne hardly pulling up trees, John Carew somewhat long in the tooth and Freddie Sears failing to live up to expectations, you wouldn’t bet against Fat Sam giving him a few run-outs this term.
It turns out Hall’s return to his parent club has come rather sooner than expected – with injuries potentially paving the way for some first-team action for the Hammers.