Oxford United Season Review: Inconsistent Campaign But Plenty of Positives

Oxford United season review

While Oxford United saw their season end with defeat in the League One play-off semi-final, many U’s fans would have been pleased with their progress on the field after what was another disappointing start.

Oxford United Season Review: Slow Start, Record-Breaking Middle and Play-Off Agony

Slow Start

As has been the case in all of Karl Robinson’s three full seasons at Oxford United, the club made a slow start to the season.

The U’s suffered seven losses from their opening ten games before a derby defeat against Swindon Town made it eight league defeats in just 13 matches.

Oxford began the season with defeat on the road at Lincoln City before the Imps’ play-off semi-final opponents Sunderland saw off the U’s with a 2-0 scoreline. Oxford got their first points on the board with a convincing 4-1 win away at Accrington Stanley but were pegged back again with losses on the road to Gillingham and Peterborough United respectively.

They secured their first home win of the season with a 3-2 victory over MK Dons before another succession of away defeats at Charlton Athletic and Fleetwood Town. The U’s returned to winning ways with a 3-1 victory at home to Rochdale but then lost their rearranged fixture against Crewe Alexandra, having been postponed on two previous occasions.

A nervy 2-1 win at bottom club Wigan Athletic was followed by a credible draw at Fratton Park against Portsmouth. Those four points set the U’s up for the derby match against fellow strugglers Swindon, but defeat against the Robins meant Oxford had managed just 13 points from their opening 13 games and sat in 19th position.

Record-Breaking Middle

The defeat against Swindon was the turning point. Robinson dropped experienced goalkeeper Simon Eastwood after his howler against the Robins and installed 23-year-old academy graduate Jack Stevens. This proved to be a masterstroke.

The next three games resulted in three draws. While it meant a return into the bottom four, points against Ipswich Town, Hull City and Blackpool were seen as positive results. In addition, Stevens kept two clean sheets from those three fixtures, with the club having failed to keep a clean sheet all season before their meeting against the Tractor Boys.

Then came the winning run. A 4-0 victory at home to Northampton Town set the ball rolling. This was followed by full points over AFC Wimbledon, Plymouth Argyle, Burton Albion, Bristol Rovers, Rochdale and Fleetwood Town. Two cup wins during that run meant the U’s had broken a club record that had been set since the early 1980s with nine successive wins.

While the opposition were all in the bottom half of the table, Oxford still needed to secure the wins. During those victories, the players showed tremendous character, which was proven with stoppage-time winners against Plymouth and Rochdale.

Defeat at Doncaster Rovers stopped the run, but it was a strong display against another high flying team. What was important was how the U’s responded, and they picked up seven points from the next three games against Bristol Rovers, Wigan and Ipswich.

The U’s had gone from dropping back down to 21st with a draw against Hull to seventh after the win over Wigan.

Inconsistency Creeps in Before Final Play-Off Push

Defeat at home to Portsmouth began a period of inconsistency. Three successive draws against MK Dons, Peterborough and Charlton could have been seen as important points ahead of the derby return against the Robins. This time, Oxford held their own and were fully deserving of their 2-1 victory, which saw Stevens make a second penalty save in as many games after his 94th minute stop against the Addicks three days earlier.

The draw against Charlton would be their final stalemate of the season. A loss at Hull was followed up by a comfortable win over Doncaster, but back to back defeats against Blackpool and Northampton looked to have halted any promotion push.

However, a Friday night win over Lincoln kept the glimmer alive but a disastrous Easter weekend made the majority of fans believe their challenge was over after losses against Sunderland and Accrington.

But, the U’s weren’t done. With the pressure seemingly off, Oxford romped to a 6-0 win at Crewe – a joint club record away victory in the Football League. The U’s followed that up with a 4-1 win over Shrewsbury Town before a 3-2 success over Gillingham, with Oxford coming from two goals down with just 18 minutes remaining to secure all three points.

Spirits were rightfully high in the camp but defeat a Plough Lane came from out of nowhere and put the season in doubt once again.

With three games remaining, Oxford needed to secure a maximum nine points and hope for results going their way elsewhere. The U’s saw off Plymouth and Shrewsbury before winning 4-0 against Burton on the final day to do their part.

Results elsewhere, notably Accrington picking up a point apiece against Portsmouth and Charlton before winning against Pompey on the final day, ensured the U’s finished the season in the top six.

From sitting in the bottom four in December to battling for the play-offs, it was a remarkable turnaround from Robinson’s side, but the season wasn’t over.

Play-Off Agony as U’s Lose Out to Blackpool

The U’s were tasked with facing Blackpool in the League One play-off semi-final. Both sides entered the two-legged affairs in a rich vein of form and, on paper, it could have gone either way.

That may well have been the case if Oxford had kept themselves in the contest after the first leg, but a disastrous 3-0 loss at home all but ended their chance of a Wembley return.

Tasked with scoring three goals against the divisions strongest defence in front of 4,000 fans at Bloomfield Road was always going to be difficult, but Oxford defied the odds and managed it. However, the U’s also conceded another three goals, losing the tie 6-3 on aggregate.

While it was clearly disappointing to lose in the play-offs, the final two games against the Seasiders summed up the season for Oxford. Failure to secure wins against the top six sides had been crucial, while a poor start had given them a mountain to climb.

Oxford United Season Review: Key Players

For the second successive season, Matty Taylor was the club’s top goalscorer with 19 in all competitions. The Oxford-born forward netted two more than last season, when he was on loan from Bristol City.

On the subject of loans, Queens Park Rangers winger Mide Shodipo had a solid campaign and was the U’s second-highest goalscorer with 13 in all competitions, which included three match-winning goals in the league. Marcus McGuane joined from Nottingham Forest but only managed half a season due to injury, while January signings Brandon Barker and Elliot Lee hit the ground running with 16 goal contributions between them.

Defensively, the U’s may have conceded the most of any of the top eight sides, but their back four also contributed heavily towards the goals for tally. Full-backs Josh Ruffels and Sam Long added 12 goals and ten assists between them, while centre back Elliott Moore also contributed to nine.

 

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