Oxford United’s final game of the League One season ended in defeat in the hands of Luton Town. The U’s nine-game unbeaten run came to an end, whilst the Hatters’ result saw them crowned League One champions.
Defeat at Luton, but a Mid-Table Finish
Luton Town 3-1 Oxford United
Oxford didn’t need anything out of this game, but a win for Luton would crown them as champions. And the hosts were determined to get the win, finding the back of the net inside five minutes when George Moncur saw his free-kick sail past Simon Eastwood.
The U’s, unbeaten in nine, came close to a leveller but James Shea denied Jamie Mackie. On-loan West Ham United winger, Marcus Browne, also tested the Hatters keeper, but the hosts were on top in the game, with Eastwood twice denying James Collins.
At the break, Karl Robinson would have been relatively happy with the performance despite the slow start. But they made another poor beginning to the second half. Just twelve minutes into the second half, Luton scored a well-worked goal. Finished off by Elliot Lee, the Hatters doubled the advantage.
A double change then for Robinson, bringing on Gavin Whyte and Jerome Sinclair, and the U’s were level just moments later. Oxford saw an effort strike the post, before Everton loanee, Luke Garbutt, tapped in the rebound.
Both goalkeepers were being tested, but with fifteen left to play, Eastwood was unable to deny Moncur a second. The game was done. Luton held on to win the division, whilst for Oxford, they finished 12th.
A Look Back at the Season
Although Barnsley went up to the Championship along with Luton, Oxford suffered a 4-0 defeat at Oakwell on the opening day of the season. Three more defeats followed against Fleetwood Town, Portsmouth and Accrington Stanley respectively, before the U’s recorded their first win, and points, of the season at home against Burton Albion.
A 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light against promotion favourites, Sunderland, followed, but that was the start to a seven-game winless run. A 2-0 win at home against Plymouth was just the U’s second win in 13 league games.
That said, the U’s had previously drawn at Southend United, starting a seven-game unbeaten run. But it was Southend that struck on Boxing Day, leaving the U’s with a run of just one win in their next ten games.
That one win, however, was at home against Portsmouth, and Robinson’s side also managed draws with Barnsley and Sunderland respectively.
Then, Blackpool away. Oxford United were 22nd in League One with 33 points. They had failed to win away and had just seven wins all season, which was the joint-worst in the division. But a 1-0 win at promotion-chasing Blackpool was the turning point in the season.
During this time, the U’s recorded six wins, eight in twelve, either side of the Gills defeat.
The turnaround had been incredible. The U’s looked certain for relegation given their poor results, but hard-fought victories propelled them up the table, eventually finishing 12th; ten points clear of the drop and 13 off the playoffs, on 60 points.
Success or Failure?
Despite a resurgent end to the season, this campaign has been a failure. Oxford had a top-six budget, and despite some great signings in both windows, the squad wasn’t capable to compete this term.
Like all squads, the U’s suffered injuries, and the club doesn’t have the depth to replace them. This is something that will need to be looked at next season if Oxford are to push for the play-offs.
As for Robinson, many supporters wanted him gone post Christmas, but the board stuck with him, rightly or wrongly, and safely guided the U’s to a comfortable mid-table finish. To be fair to him, he knew aspects of his game wasn’t working, and he changed.
The change in results wasn’t just down to the players performing better, players returning from injury and suspension, or playing lesser opposition, but also down to Robinson changing tactics.
We will look forward to next season, and it’s rumoured that the U’s board has some serious money behind them, but how much will be invested in the squad is yet to be seen.
If Oxford can keep hold of the core of this squad, with a few additions, there is no reason they won’t be able to compete in the top half of the table next season.
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