Mark Sykes’ FA Cup display for Oxford United against Newcastle can offer motivation to under-performing former club Glenavon

Mark Sykes’ dazzling display for Oxford United against Newcastle United in Tuesday’s FA Cup clash attracted viewing figures of millions - with former boss Gary Hamilton hoping the eye-catching performance can now offer extra motivation to one very specific audience.
Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton. Pic by INPHO.Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton. Pic by INPHO.
Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton. Pic by INPHO.

Sykes grabbed centre-stage in the fourth-round replay as League One-based Oxford pushed the Premier League visitors to extra-time in front of almost 12,000 inside the ground and a peak television audience reported as 4.8 million.

It was a display of energy and ambition - characteristics which defined his development from raw teenager under Hamilton at Glenavon towards securing a dream move into full-time football last January.

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Hamilton wants to cultivate a similar mindset to help maximise the ability of his current crop at Mourneview Park, with Glenavon playing host to high-flying Crusaders today searching to salvage something from the closing stages of a campaign defined by inconsistency.

“One thing we always tried to do with Mark at Glenavon, along with any other young players, is encourage an environment which allowed players to operate without fear,” said Hamilton. “We never would have a go at Mark for trying something in the final third that didn’t come off.

“You want players to be mentally strong to take on responsibility against any opponent and that was the case in the match with Newcastle and so often over his time at Glenavon.

“He was keen to listen and worked hard on improving himself away from the game too in the gym.

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“Ability is one thing but you need more than that, mental strength is important.

“You never want young players showing fear on the pitch after something goes wrong or to go hiding in games.

“Mark often talked about the influence senior players had on his development, especially in terms of helping during games by offering advice or encouragement.

“That is what we have maybe let slip with this current squad and it is one of the reasons why I wanted to bring in someone like Colin Coates in the January transfer window, a player of experience and a real winner who can help guide our younger players the way others did in the past for people like Mark.

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“Our results have not been good enough this season, often our heads have dropped or we’ve played with fear.

“So it’s about trying to encourage again that desire to go up against any opponent and challenge, the way Mark did and so many Glenavon sides of the past have been able to do.”

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter considers a visit to Mourneview Park a tough test irrespective of form.

“We have gone up at times and picked a few draws or wins but lost in recent days,” said Baxter. “We must approach it with a lot of concentration and focus.

“You never take anything for granted around an opponent’s recent results, we look at the bigger picture.”