MARK Sykes is on a mission to lay down a marker for next season by finishing the campaign strongly for Oxford United.

James Henry’s experience was preferred as the side dug their way out of relegation trouble in Sky Bet League One.

But with safety now realistically assured and boss Karl Robinson starting to look to the future, Sykes is in line to stake a claim.

The 21-year-old started his first game for more than a month on Saturday and is aiming to make the most of the remaining four matches.

He said: “I’ve been out of the team recently and I can’t complain because we’ve been winning, but I just tried to show a bit of what I can do.

“I want to be playing week-in, week-out and the gaffer has given me a chance.

Also read: Six candidates to consider for Oxford United's player of the season

“With not playing for a couple of weeks it’s made me really want to play in these last couple of games.

“If he does play me next week hopefully I’ll do well again.

“It’s important to be out there and that’s my main aim going into next season.

“This has given me a platform to try to build on and it will stand me in good stead for next season.”

U’s boss Karl Robinson has liked what he has seen from Sykes since the January move from Glenavon.

And the way the attacking midfielder linked up with fellow Northern Irishman Gavin Whyte in the goalless draw with AFC Wimbledon caught the eye.

Robinson said: “He’s a Rolls-Royce out there.

“It’s a lovely running style he’s got, it’s effortless.

“The ball seems to be stuck to him. He and Gavin Whyte play well together.”

Whyte, who made the move across the Irish Sea six months earlier, has blazed a trail for Sykes.

And the intention is to perform well enough for United that he follows the winger all the way into the senior international set-up next season.

Sykes said: “When I first came to the club he helped me settle in.

“Michael (O’Neill) now has put his trust in Gav to put him in the first team with Northern Ireland.

“I’d be delighted if I could do the same thing.

“I want to be involved with the Northern Ireland squad as much as I can.

“It’s a massive aim for me and it puts me up on a stage where a lot of people can look at you.”