Midweek fixture – Yellows in the Euros

It may have taken 28 years for Oxford United to make any impression on the European Championships, but when it came, it was explosive; pivoting around a single game, and a single goal, on the 12th June 1988 in Stuttgart.

Before we get to that, some context; Charles Hughes was the FA’s technical director during the 1980s and an acolyte of Wing Commander turned accountant turned football theoretician Charles Reep. Reep observed that most goals resulted from moves of less than four passes and therefore argued that teams should focus on creating what he called POMOs – Positions Of Maximum Opportunity – via what we now know as the long ball or route one.

Hughes was such a robust advocate of direct football he enshrined it in the FA official coaching manual in 1980 and it became a template for a generation of managers including Dave Basset at Wimbledon, Graham Taylor at Watford and Jack Charlton for the Republic of Ireland.

The idea of POMO is flawed; there’s no advantage of playing the long ball; all possession in those days tended to consist of less than four passes, it’s just how football was played. Teams were more potent when they retained possession just they didn’t do it very often. The idea stuck and even today, you’ll hear English football fans channelling Charles Reep by yelling at teams to get the ball in the mixer and stop mucking about.

When Jack Charlton became Republic of Ireland’s manager in 1985 he set about transforming the nation’s hopes based on two principles; a full-hearted commitment to Hughes’ philosophy and the leveraging of the opportunities provided by the Irish diaspora.

The Irish are among the most dispersed in the world, forced by poverty and persecution to find a better life elsewhere. To retain its identity, the Irish government had a liberal interpretation of nationhood. By law, if you had Irish relatives going back three generations, you could apply for citizenship. This helped circumnavigate FIFA’s ‘grandparent’ rule, where players were eligible to play for only their parents or grandparents’ home country. If Charlton could persuade eligible players to apply for Irish nationality, his catchment for talent would grow exponentially.

While some headed to the Americas, and others to Gaelic speaking Scotland, many Irish migrants simply crossed the Irish Sea to settle in Liverpool. One of those was John Aldridge’s great grandmother, Mary Mills, from Athlone.

Two things prevented Aldridge from being the greatest domestic goalscorer of his generation; Gary Lineker and Ian Rush. Lineker was immovable for England, while Rush was the leading striker in club football. Aldridge scored an avalanche of goals for Oxford, but opportunities to go further, particularly internationally, were limited.

Jack Charlton seized his chance, giving Aldridge his international debut in March 1986 against Wales. Prolific wherever he played, Aldridge didn’t quite fit into the long-ball system; his reputation built on poaching goals from six yards out. It took two and a half years and 20 games to score the first of his 19 international goals.

He hadn’t found the net by the time Ireland qualified for Euro 88 in Germany. By this point, Aldridge had moved from Oxford to Liverpool, replacing Rush who had been sold to Juventus. Ireland’s presence was assumed to add some colour to the tournament with their fearsome reputation for drink and an endless appetite for the craic. Ireland were what England could have been if they weren’t so angry and uptight about everything, it’s not surprising Charles Hughes’ ideas gained traction, the English dreary and pragmatic, lacking in romance.

Ireland qualified having scored just ten goals in eight games and thanks to a late Scotland goal against Bulgaria. Nobody considered them to be a threat. England, off the back of a good World Cup in 1986, fancied their chances to go all the way. The two countries were drawn together in Group B and faced each other in their opening game on the third day of the tournament.

Charlton was up against the country he’d won the World Cup with twenty-two years earlier, but somehow seemed more Irish than English. England seemed uncomfortable and on edge, partly because of the constant threat of hooliganism, but also because of the expectation that hung over them. Charlton had an air of chaotic bonhomie and the Irish loved him for it. In a frenzied atmosphere, the Irish entered the fray, backed by thousands of fans, with Aldridge leading the line.

The early moments were a testament to Charles Hughes’ vision; the flow of the game punctuated by petty fouls and aerial duels. After six minutes, a long Kevin Moran free-kick was launched down the left, deep into England territory.

Another former Oxford player, Southampton’s Mark Wright was partnering Tony Adams after Terry Butcher had been ruled out with a broken leg. Wright had played 10 games for Oxford before being transferred to The Dell in a deal which brought Trevor Hebberd and George Lawrence to The Manor. Within two years he’d made his England debut.

Wright was drawn out to firefight down the flank. Apparently spooked by the Irish threat, he clattered his right-back Gary Stevens allowing the ball to run loose to Tony Galvin. Galvin weakly hooked the ball across the penalty area but Wright’s ill-discipline caused panic in the English defence, pulling it out of position, forcing left-back Kenny Sansom into the middle to fill the hole he’d left behind but leaving the back post wide open.

The ball was awkward, bouncing waist high, Sansom lashed at it, sending it high into the air; Aldridge, playing target man, beat Tony Adams in the air nodding it onto the back post where Ray Houghton was arriving at speed.

Houghton may never have been an Irish legend he was if it wasn’t for John Aldridge. Charlton’s focus had been on the striker when he watched him score twice in Oxford’s Milk Cup semi-final first leg draw against Aston Villa. Afterwards, Aldridge introduced Charlton to Houghton joking that his teammate was more Irish than he was.

Houghton, a Glaswegian who’d signed for Oxford the previous summer, had a fractious relationship with the Scottish national team when it became clear that, despite a breakthrough season at The Manor and a goal in the Milk Cup Final, he was unlikely to be considered for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Much to Charlton’s delight, Houghton’s father was from Donegal and therefore eligible for the Republic. Moving quickly, Charlton gave him his debut against Wales alongside Aldridge three weeks later.

Back in 1988, as the ball from Aldridge dropped, Houghton – now also a Liverpool player – burst into the box with his characteristic scuttle. He’d spotted Peter Shilton just off his line and off-centre to the goal, he realised if he could get some elevation on his header, he’d be able to get it over the keeper and into the net. Shilton, playing his 99th game for England, watched helplessly as it sailed over his head for 1-0. The celebrations were wild, it was the defining moment in a defining Irish win. The two ex-Oxford players, with a little help from a third, had ignited a golden age for the Republic on a world stage, one Irish fan said it defined the country for the first time since Irish partition nearly 70 years earlier.

Nestled away on the Irish bench in Stuttgart was Le Havre striker Johnny Byrne. If Aldridge and Houghton were in the right place at the right time, the reverse could be said for Byrne. He’d made his Republic of Ireland debut a few months before Jack Charlton became manager. A mercurial ball playing forward, he didn’t really fit Charlton’s model. Aldridge, Frank Stapleton, Tony Cascarino and Niall Quinn were all ahead of him in the pecking order, Byrne was very much plan B, or perhaps C or D, watching all three games from the sidelines. Things would pick up for him five years later as he spent a memorable couple of years partnering Paul Moody at The Manor.

The defeat was the start of a dismal tournament for England; after losing to the Republic they were humiliated 3-0 by the Netherlands. Wright was rested for the dead rubber against the Soviet Union, which ended in a 3-1 defeat. For Ireland, with Aldridge and Houghton ever-present, a draw with the Soviet Union put them on the verge of qualification, but a late 1-0 defeat, and freak goal, to the Netherlands ended the adventure, if not the wanderlust for more.

The Euros became a recurring nightmare for Mark Wright. In 1992, days before the tournament in Sweden, he aggravated his Achilles and dropped out of the squad. It came so late England weren’t allowed to replace him and he remained an official, if unavailable, squad member. Four years later, in Euro 96, Wright was set to be a surprise pick having worked his way back into contention after two years out of the squad. Two months before the tournament, he strained knee ligaments ruling him out again.

With Mark Wright missing Euro 92, it took until Euro 96 in England for an Oxford presence to re-emerge on the Euro stage. Ian Walker – who’d played three games on loan at The Manor six years earlier – was the perfect nineties footballer with his ‘curtains’ haircut, mock Tudor mansion and page 3 girlfriend. He also had an extraordinary International career that lasted eight years, two European Championships – he was picked again in 2004 – and just four games. In 1996 he played third fiddle to David Seaman and Tim Flowers, eight years later he’d been overtaken by David James and Paul Robinson. It goes without saying, Walker didn’t get a sniff of even the substitutes bench for either tournament.

Memories of Euro 96 are heavily skewed by England’s glorious failure. Elsewhere, the tournament was a bit ho hum; stadiums were half-full and there were few genuine stand out games. Scotland’s tournament was very typical – an encouraging draw with the Netherlands preceded a defeat to England. A win over Switzerland put them on the brink of qualification, but England conceded in a win over the dutch meaning Scotland were edged out on goals scored. On the bench throughout was Scot Gemmil, a disappointment no doubt that was extinguished when he moved to Oxford in 2006 as Jim Smith’s player-coach. He made one substitute appearance at Mansfield, an experience he found so overwhelmingly fantastic he immediately emigrated to New Zealand.

And that was it until this year’s tournament. Leeds United’s Tyler Roberts, who was on loan briefly at Oxford in 2016, is in the Wales squad. After the group games, Roberts – wearing the number nine – remains rooted to the bench. If he does make an appearance in the knock-out stages, he’ll be the first Oxford-related player to have stepped onto the pitch since the 1988 tournament 33 years ago. Given the wait, Charles Hughes may have blighted a generation of English football, but maybe we should be grateful for his flawed theories.

Midweek fixture: Season review 2020/21

It’ll soon be time for Oxblogger’s Absolute State of Oxford United Survey for 2021, but with the season complete and the spoils of war dished out, let’s look back at what you were predicting for us last year and how it turned out.

When asked where we’d finish 56% of you thought we’d end up higher than 6th, so even though we sneaked into the play-offs, most expected more. It’s a different picture when predicting the final table compared to others; in that you thought we’d finish 8th, showing how fierce the competition was. But this meant we were ahead of expectation in that respect.

Hull City were champions, but you had them down as 4th. You predicted that Wigan Athletic would be top, even though they finished 19th. To rectify that terrible prediction; you also said Swindon Town would be anchored to the bottom, but they over-performed to finish 23rd. In a hard fought battle of ineptitude, the wooden spoon went to Bristol Rovers, who you thought would finish 11th.

Charlton Athletic, in seventh, was the only team whose place you predicted accurately. Surprisingly, perhaps, Crewe Alexandra were the team that over-performed nine places ahead of their predicted 21st. Lincoln City’s 5th place was the next biggest, eight places higher than you’d predicted, with a similar performance from Accrington Stanley.

Biggest failures were Wigan, 19 places below where you said they’d finish, next was Bristol Rovers 13 places below their predicted finish.

Finishing positionPredictedDifference
Hull City14+3
Peterborough23+1
Blackpool310+7
Sunderland46+2
Lincoln City513+8
Oxford United68+2
Charlton Athletic770
Portsmouth82-6
Ipswich Town95-4
Gillingham1016+6
Accrington Stanley1119+8
Crewe Alexandra1221+9
MK Dons1317+4
Doncaster Rovers1412-2
Fleetwood Town159-6
Burton Albion16160
Shrewsbury Town1715-2
Plymouth Argyle1814-4
AFC Wimbledon1922+3
Wigan Athletic201-19
Rochdale2123+2
Northampton Town2220-2
Swindon Town2324+1
Bristol Rovers2411-13

Cup predictions were pretty grim; in 2019/20 we’d had good runs in both competitions and hopes were high for this season. 66% of you thought we’d go beyond the 2nd round of the League Cup and a whopping 97% thought we’d go beyond the 1st Round in the FA Cup. So, under-performances all round.

Hopes for the season

In terms of more general hopes for the season, the themes produced a mix bag.

Promotion

The biggest single hope was us achieving promotion, even though, as illustrated above, we were expected to finish outside the play-offs when considering the opposition. So, a failed objective, but perhaps it was an expectation bar that was too high. 

Stadium

The great perennial hope was around the resolution of the now 20 year old stadium situation – new stadium or buying the Kassam – you weren’t fussy. In reality, and understandably, this may have been the quietest year on record in that particular issue. It remains our eternal and elusive hope, could it be resolved next year? Probably not.

General progress

More generally, people wanted to see progress; this is a nebulous concept – fans back at the stadium? Promotion? A general feeling of goodwill? More investment? While there isn’t the fervour of last season’s successes, there still seems to be a good vibe around the place and a general enthusiasm for the club. So, we’re probably in a similar place to where we were this time last year and in the circumstances, that’s no bad thing.

A return to normality

What everyone was looking for back in September was a return to normal and we’re still a way from that. There does seem to be some indication that we’re moving in the right direction with fans back at games, albeit in a limited way. The return to normality didn’t just focus on our own situation, there was also a real hope that the financial damage to other clubs wasn’t too deep either. So far, although full recovery is still a long way away, the fact that no clubs have gone bust is, perhaps, a big bonus. 

Nine in a row

This season offered the opportunity to turn seven in a row against Swindon into nine. Naturally, that all went up in a puff of smoke. Despite the hope, lots of you were predicting this, just by the law of averages.

Predictions

Your predictions were wild, varied and mostly misguided, but there were a few gems in there:

Fans

The most optimistic prediction was the return of fans by October, so the brief return in December wasn’t miles off even if it was short lived. One prediction was that we wouldn’t see a live game and we were pretty close to that. Someone predicted that crowds wouldn’t top 4000 all year, which was bang on. Many of you were right to predict that away games would be out of the question, but at least the season wasn’t interrupted as some thought it might.

Players

Matty Taylor was predicted to notch 20-30 goals, but fell short by a single goal, Dan Agyei was also predicted to score 15-20 goals, so six was some way off that. Rob Atkinson did emerge as a key talent as some thought he would. 

Cameron Brannagan is still with us, when many thought he wouldn’t be, but Marcus Browne’s return in January failed to materialise.

One person predicted that Simon Eastwood would be ousted as our first choice keeper, which was inconceivable at the time, although it has surprised many that he hasn’t moved back north and has, in fact, signed a new contract.

Off the field

You predicted financial chaos across the divisions, which, miraculously, hasn’t yet shown itself. Some thought we’d have a winding up order, which we didn’t, others thought there’d be a cash injection, which, if rumours of a boardroom shake up are anything to go by, could actually be right. You also thought Karl Robinson would leave for the Championship, but he’s still here.

Matches

On the field, someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, which, for the first time ever, there wasn’t, nor was there another cup game against Manchester City. 

Elsewhere, the season didn’t end with 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs but Lincoln City did turn out to be the dark horses of the division. At the other end, the expectation that relegation would be determined by points deductions didn’t happen.

Other

And finally; there was no red away kit and Jerome Sale didn’t win commentator of the year nor, thankfully, did he swear live on air.

The verdict

Purely objectively, based on your predictions and hopes, it’s been a disappointing season with general under-achievement all round. Why doesn’t it feel like that? Probably because there was a realisation that after narrowly missing out on promotion in 2019/20, expectations were very high, perhaps too high, as was the competition within the division. In such a volatile environment, standing still could easily be seen as progress in itself.

Midweek fixture: Sam Long – local hero

The first time I remember seeing Sam Long he was 18-years-old and stood in a school assembly hall handing out end of season awards to a local junior football club having signed his first professional contract a few days earlier. 

Long was unremarkable; his hair was short and he was wearing jeans, trainers and a hoodie, looking indistinguishable from the teenagers he was rewarding. The year before, the club had attracted England international Eniola Aluko. By contrast, dressed in her England tracksuit, she looked comfortable in her ambassadorial role. 

One of the coaches congratulated Long on his new contract; though most didn’t know who he was. My thoughts were less magnanimous, it had been nearly a decade since Dean Whitehead and Sam Ricketts had cultivated successful careers in the game and two decades since Joey Beauchamp and Chris Allen had done the same. Long didn’t seem the type that was likely to follow in their footsteps.

There are always players that fans see as being the great new hope for the club; there were frenzied calls for James Roberts and Tyrone Marsh to solve our goalscoring problems despite being inexperienced teenagers, like many others, they quickly faded from the scene.

Long’s debut was as a substitute for James Constable in 2013 away to Accrington Stanley. The team, managed by Chris Wilder, mixed veterans from our Conference promotion season – Constable, Damian Batt and Alfie Potter – with experienced pros like Michael Duberry who had been brought in to fire us towards promotion. Duberry had already picked Long out for his work ethic and lack of ego, praising the influence of Chris Allen, his youth team coach, for instilling a culture of listening and learning which, he said, would serve him well.

It would be another year before Long would make his first start. With Wilder moving on to Northampton, caretaker manager Mickey Lewis gave him his debut in a draw at Morecambe. It was an illustration of Lewis’ generous character to give young players a chance, even if it was sometimes at the expense of results. Lewis was quick to praise Long’s performance, in what was otherwise a disappointing display.

The arrival of Michael Appleton and new ownership in 2014 saw a revolution at the club. Long wasn’t an established player and with Appleton impatient to find a winning formula, his chances were limited to eight games, although he did score his first goal against Southend. 

Appleton churned through over 40 players in his first season, weeding out many of Chris Wilder’s signings who he saw as having a loser’s mentality. Long could easily have been swept away in the tidal wave, but he survived the cull, going on a six-week loan to Kidderminster in November 2014 as part of a deal that brought Chey Dunkley to the club.

With the painful screwdriver work complete; everything seemed to be falling into place for Long as the 2015/16 season approached. Jake Wright called him the best player in pre-season; in a crowded field, it was quite an accolade. 

It went further; Michael Appleton started implementing a philosophy inspired by the book Legacy – which details the winning formula of the All-Blacks. He established a leadership group to build cohesiveness and deal with squad issues; Long was made part of it to stand alongside more experienced first team regulars.

Then, just as things started to click, Long was stretchered off in a League Cup tie at Hillsborough with an ankle ligament injury that plagued him all season. He returned to the bench for the 2016 EFL Trophy defeat to Barnsley, but while the club were advancing, Long was stuck in the physio’s room.

Long would make the bench a year later for another EFL Trophy final against Coventry, but injuries slowed his progress. When Pep Clotet replaced Appleton in 2017, the new manager turned to experienced players, a rainbow alliance of old mates. When he was fit, Long was loaned out to Hampton and Richmond Borough.

To outsiders, it seemed that the club were running Long’s contract down; he’d started four league games in three years and faced the prospect of getting to the end of his deal with little or no experience and no reputation to take him elsewhere. 

It would be romantic to suggest that Karl Robinson spotted Long’s potential and nurtured him into the player he is today, but that wouldn’t be wholly true. Robinson wanted a modern full-back, an auxiliary midfielder expected to defend and attack for 90 minutes. He strained his resources to land someone with the modern characteristics of pace, energy, resilience and those crucial defensive and attacking qualities. Chris Cadden arrived from Motherwell, but the budget couldn’t stretch to a permanent deal so the club signed up to a curious arrangement where he moved to Columbus Crew before being immediately loaned bak to the Oxford for half a season while the MLS season was in recess. When Cadden’s deal ran out, Robinson turned to Long to fill the vacant slot. 

Finally getting regular starts, the season was curtailed as the coronavirus pandemic hit, a late run of form saw Oxford qualify for the play-off final against Wycombe. It was Long’s third trip to Wembley, his first time on the pitch and his third disappointment. 

Although Long signed a new two-year deal just before the play-offs, 2020/21 felt like déjà vu; Sean Clare was signed from Hearts and given the right-back’s number two shirt, implying that he was the preferred starting option. The season started underwhelmingly and Clare’s performances we’re fitful. Long clawed his way back into the starting line-up once again.

His return coincided with a return to form and a scintillating winning streak. He was also picking up assists and goals that had been absent from his CV. Against Plymouth, he sprinted half the length of the pitch, exchanging passes with Clare along the way, to score the winner in a crucial 3-2 win. With the play-off race tightening, he popped up to score a memorable last-minute brace to put Gillingham to the sword. Long edged past the milestone of 100 starts and was leading from the front. 

Perhaps it was that time spent with the leaders of the club under Michael Appleton, or the guidance as a youth team player under Chris Allen that encouraged Long to take a greater responsibility in terms of being a leader in the team. His willingness to take responsibility grew as the season progressed. The regular season closed with a play-off spot, and two player of the season awards. Next season, he’ll wear the number 2 shirt.

What is a full back? They don’t score the goals like a striker; they don’t show the great artistic impudence like a midfielder nor the alpha-brutish strength of central defender. When you get a good one they dictate mood and tone. Long has emerged as an attacking threat and an active contributor to our success as a club, he represents his community and embodies the philosophy that Karl Robinson has tried to instil into the club. Perhaps he needed that journey to establish himself in that role and build the mental fortitude to fulfil it; now he’s here, long may he reign.

Midweek fixture: The 17 best games of Oxford United’s 2016 promotion season

A long time ago, I asked for your favourite games of the 2015/16 season, then the pandemic hit and everything went belly up. That season had everything – derby wins, giant killings, a Wembley visit and, of course, promotion. There was a lot to choose from, but vote you did. Here are the seventeen best games from that unforgettable year.

17. Morecambe 2 Oxford United 4

A hard won away win in a lovely kit, apart from that, it’s not obvious why this was such a significant game. But, if you’re in the pub, a job interview or hostage situation and someone asks what was the 17th most memorable game of the 2015/16 season; this is it.

Read the match wrap.

16. Oxford United 2 Hartlepool 0

Had it really come to this? After the derby, Wembley, giant killings and all the winning, we were faced with the prospect of three games and three wins for promotion. This was the first, Joe Skarz returned from what was thought to be a season ending injury to help drag us to three points against a stubborn Hartlepool side. One down, two to go.

Read the match wrap.

15. Oxford United 3 Exeter City 0

An absolute Boxing Day banger, in front of a near capacity crowd, we put on a breathtaking second half attacking display to sweep away Exeter City.

Read the match wrap

14. Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 1

All good teams need a magician to make them great; ours came in the form of Kemar Roofe. His early season wonder-strike at Bristol Rovers was just a sign of things to come. The Roofe was on fire.

Read the match wrap.

13. Stevenage 1 Oxford United 5

Sometimes, everything just clicks. When the club designated the game at Teddy Sheringham’s Stevenage a family away-day special, they couldn’t have hoped for a better game than this 5-1 annihilation. It was the first time in nine years we’d scored five away from home and was, at the time, a record equalling away victory. One for the record books, but more importantly, one for the kids.

Read the match wrap.

12. Oxford United 0 Millwall 1

Sometimes games are less about the performance and more about the result. The atmosphere was ugly, the game was tense for this JPT Semi-Final Second Leg against Millwall. All we needed to do was protect our 2-0 first leg advantage. A 1-0 defeat made things uncomfortable, but still meant we were heading for Wembley.

Read the match wrap.

11. Barnet 0 Oxford United 3

The season turned into a farewell tour of the clubs we’d considered equals for a decade or more. This dominant display at Barnet with two goals from Callum O’Dowda had a strong ‘we’ll never play you again’ vibe about it.

Read the match wrap.

10. Portsmouth 0 Oxford United 1

Roofe, Dunkley, Hylton, MacDonald, Wright, Baldock, Lundstram, Maguire – the list of great names from that season live long in the memory – Skarz. See? Was Jordan Bowery the great forgotten player from that season? Maybe. With JPT, FA Cup and league interests, things were getting hectic. A trip to Portsmouth looked daunting, but Bowery’s second half winner secured a memorable and crucial three points.

Read the match wrap.

9. Oxford United 2 Barnsley 3

Wembley; the JPT Final was a true game of two halves. In the first 45 minutes we were, by far, the better team and went in 1-0 up with a goal from Callum O’Dowda and a Cruyff turn from Chey Dunkley. In the second half we came out heavy legged and conceded three. A Danny Hylton goal pulled it back to 3-2, which wasn’t quite enough. But, what a day out.

Read the match wrap.

8. Crawley Town 1 Oxford United 5

We needed this; after two frustrating league draws and a defeat at Wembley, we just needed to give someone a good pummelling. It’d taken nine years for us to score five away from home and five months to do it again. Crawley, it was nothing personal.

Read the match wrap.

7. Millwall 0 Oxford United 2

Days after knocking Swansea City out of the FA Cup, we headed to The New Den for our JPT Semi-Final First Leg against Millwall. After the Lord Mayor’s Show? Not a chance. Two giant killings in four days? Yes please.

Read the match wrap.

6. Brentford 0 Oxford United 4

There may have been a good feeling around the place, but the obliteration of Championship Brentford in the League Cup ignited the season. The opening was rampant with Oxford three up inside 15 minutes, including a wonder strike from Kemar Roofe, Johnny Mullins’ second half goal saw us stroll to a 4-0 win.

Read the match wrap.

5. Notts County 2 Oxford United 4

New Year, New You. The first game of 2016 was at a grim Meadow Lane. What resulted was a titanic tussle with two breathtaking last minute goals.

Read the match wrap.

4. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0

The Kassam Stadium can feel like a soulless concrete brick, but when Oxford’s Ultras unveiled a giant flag of an ox impaling a robin which stretched from the top of the stand to the bottom, it felt like the Curva Sud. We were absolutely dominant for this JPT derby; two Kemar Roofe goals swept Swindon aside in a true changing of the guard in the rivalry.

Read the match wrap.

3. Carlisle United 0 Oxford United 2

Did someone order a Family Bucket of limbs? The penultimate game of the season saw us 270 miles to Carlisle and owner Daryl Eales dishing out free hot dogs. Chris Maguire’s early penalty was a settler, but it was Liam Sercombe’s trademark surge into the box which cemented this as the third best game of the season. Now, where have my shoes gone?

Read the match wrap.

2. Oxford United 3 Swansea City 2

When you’ve got Premier League opponents; keep it tight, see if you can nick a goal. Right? Wrong. Despite conceding early, we put on a scintillating display of attacking joie de vivre to sweep away Swansea City in the FA Cup. If we didn’t know something special was happening before, we did now.

Read the match wrap.

1. Oxford United 3 Wycombe Wanderers 0

The pinnacle, the denouement, the culmination of a wonderful season, the sun shone, the crowds came, promotion was won. Chey Dunkley physically, emotionally and psychologically broke the deadlock, Chris Maguire made it certain, then it was over to the local boy Callum O’Dowda to weave his way to an injury-time third. For O’Dowda, Jake Wright, Danny Hylton and Kemar Roofe, it was their last appearance in an Oxford shirt. A magical spell had been broken.

Read the match wrap.

Midweek fixture: 90 minutes with Oxford United

It’s Saturday and you’re settling down for an afternoon with Jeff Stelling, who’s about to take you through the day’s action. Except this weekend’s fixtures only feature Oxford United and our correspondents are dotted around the country and throughout time. Sit back and enjoy an afternoon of Oxford United goals from the first minute to the last.

Jeff Stelling: ‘Welcome to The Manor, Highbury, Griffin Park, The Kassam Stadium, White Hart Lane, The Madjeski Stadium, Kenilworth Road, Stamford Bridge, Wembley, The County Ground, Ninian Park, Broadfield Stadium, Nene Park, Maine Road, Brisbane Road, Fratton Park, Adams Park, The New Den, Field Mill, Sincil Bank, Meadow Lane, Sixfields, Old Wembley, Villa Park, Prenton Park, The Memorial Ground, Roots Hall, Old Trafford, The Pirelli Stadium, Brunton Park and The New York Stadium, Rotheram. We’re looking forward to an afternoon of cup wins, promotions, relegations, giant killings, memorable goals and milestone moments. How do you feel it’s going to go today Paul Merson?’

Merse ‘Well Jeff, y’know…’

GOAL!

Hold that thought Merse, we head straight over to The Manor in 1999. An early goal for Oxford United…

1st minute: Jamie Lambert, Colchester United, 1999

Oh, what a start for Oxford United at The Manor against Colchester United. Jamie Lambert has put the ball in the back of the net after just 20 seconds. By my watch, that’s the fastest goal in Oxford United history. Mickey Lewis’ first league game in charge, what a way to stake a claim for the top job.

2nd minute: Steve Basham, Arsenal, 2003

And now we have a major shock on our hands at Highbury. This afternoon has gone off with a bang; Steve Basham has just wriggled free to give Oxford United the lead against Premier League leaders Arsenal in the FA Cup. The massed ranks of Oxford fans at the Clock End have gone wild. No, wait, it’s been flagged for offside. I’m not sure, that looked very tight.

3rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Chelsea, 1994

This one counts, back at The Manor in 1994, Joey Beauchamp has bundled through the Chelsea defence and slotted home past the onrushing Chelsea keeper Dimitri Kharine to put Oxford 1-0 up. The London Road are going wild, is a shock on the cards in this FA Cup tie?

4th minute: Kevin Brock, Leeds United, 1983

Oh, yes. And now Kevin Brock has just given Oxford the lead in their League Cup second leg tie against Leeds United at The Manor. Mick Vinter controlled the throw-in just inside the box, knocking it back to the onrushing Brock who slammed it home in front of the London Road. Oxford lead 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.

5th minute: Liam Sercombe, Brentford, 2015

Meanwhile, over in the capital, Oxford have started off like a train at Griffin Park in the League Cup in 2015. Liam Sercombe has just put the visitors in front, a really well worked goal with Sercombe driving the ball into the bottom right hand corner. They look really up for this tonight. 1-0.

6th minute: David Leworthy, Tottenham Hotspur, 1986

It’s like an ice-rink at The Manor in 1986 where Tottenham are the visitors for this FA Cup Third Round tie. But, Kevin Brock has just crossed for David Leworthy to head home the opening goal past Ray Clemence. Oxford lead 1-0.

7th minute: Rob Folland, Reading, 1999

OOOOOh, great goal at the Madjeski Stadium. Young Welsh full-back Rob Folland has cut inside and fired home to give Oxford the unlikeliest of leads in their first ever visit to the Madjeski. They’re looking right at home in the derby.

8th minute: Nick Cusack, Newcastle United, 1992

Oxford are in dreamland; just eight minutes gone and Nick Cusack has poked home Joey Beauchamp’s cross to put them 2-0 at The Manor. Great work from Cusack, but that was all about Beauchamp, silky skills and a pinpoint cross.

9th minute: Mike Ford, Dorchester Town, 1995

Opening goal at The Manor in the FA Cup where non-league Dorchester Town have travelled up the A34 to face their illustrious league opponents. Mike Ford headed home the rebound from Joey Beauchamp’s cross. Despite having former-Oxford keeper Ken Veysey in goal, Dorchester are looking really shaky here, this could be a long day for the minnows.

10th minute: Phil Edwards, Luton Town, 2017

Goal at Kenilworth Road in the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now. Oxford United have been under a bit of pressure in this one, but some great work from Liam Sercombe saw the ball fall to loanee Phil Edwards who was sitting on the floor from an earlier challenge and has swept the ball home. Are Oxford heading to Wembley for the second year in a row?

11th minute: Peter Rhodes-Brown, Chelsea, 1986

No time to answer that, over to West London now where there’s been a bit of a shock on the cards in the 1st Division at Stamford Bridge. Oxford United, without an away win all season are leading Chelsea who had been hoping to go top. And to really rub it in, the goal is from former Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.

12th minute: James Constable, Swindon Town, 2011

Is history being written at The County Ground? Maybe. James Constable has just darted in at the near post to put Oxford 1-0 up against Swindon Town. Swindon boss Paolo DiCanio claims Constable is a Swindon fan, I think we know the truth now.

13th minute: Tony Jones, Blackburn Rovers, 1964

Oh I say, now Oxford United have taken the lead against Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Manor in 1964. Over 20,000 jolly good fellows have packed into the little ground in Headington. It looks like we have a major shock on the cards.

14th minute: Eric Sabin, Leyton Orient, 2006

Lifeline at The Kassam Stadium! Oxford United need to beat Leyton Orient to retain their League status. Striker Eric Sabin has just got on the end of Andy Burgess’ free-kick to give the hosts the lead. The atmosphere in the stadium wild. Orient need to win to go up, so there’s a long way to go on this. But, that’s the early goal Jim Smith’s were looking for to settle the nerves.

15th minute: Alex Dyer, Leeds United, 1994

And now Oxford have taken the lead against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Attacking down the slope towards the London Road, Joey Beauchamp fed Jim Magilton down the right who fired in a low cross to Alex Dyer arriving in the middle. 1-0 Oxford.

16th minute: Jamie Cook, Luton Town, 2009

What. Have. I. Just. Seen? Goal of the season? Goal of the century? Jamie Cook just scored from 25 yards against Luton Town in this battle of the Conference giants. The game was delayed because of crowd congestion trying to get nearly 10,000 fans into the stadium. That goal was worth the entrance fee alone.

17th minute: Kevin Brock, Oldham Athletic, 1985

Oxford are putting on a show at The Manor in front of the Match of the Day cameras now, Mark Jones has just broken down the left flank crossing deep for Kevin Brock to slot home a fine opening goal. The champions-elect are on the goal trail once again.

18th minute: Oli Johnson, Swindon Town, 2012

Oh. My. Word. Injury ravaged Oxford United have had their star striker sent-off against the League leaders, who are unbeaten in ten games, they’ve taken the lead with Asa Hall scoring from close range, now two minutes later, they’re two up from young loanee Oli Johnson. Oxford are racing towards a famous derby double.

19th minute: Neil Whatmore, Newcastle United, 1983

1-0 to Oxford at The Manor in 1983, and it’s nothing more than they deserve. Star-studded Newcastle United featuring Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott are being overwhelmed here. Oxford should already be two-up already, but the breakthrough has come from the biggest name of the lot; striker Neil Whatmore.

20th minute: James Constable, York City, 2010

Oh, magnificent, Oxford United have started this play-off final at Wembley like a train, Matt Green gave them the lead in the 15th minute, now James Constable has doubled their advantage, blasting it in from twelve yards. 2-0, difficult to see York coming back from this, they look shellshocked.

21st minute: Matt Murphy, Everton, 1999

Everton looking at sixes and sevens in the League Cup and Matt Murphy has capitalised on their lax defending by heading in for the lead. The ball hit the net and trickled along the goal line before being awarded, but they all count.

22nd minute: Trevor Hebberd, Luton Town, 1987

Big goal at Kenilworth Road. Oxford needing a result here to secure another season in Division 1 and the breakthrough has come from Trevor Hebberd. Still a long way to go but they’ve got something to work with.

23rd minute: Matt Green, Bristol Rovers, 2010

What a way to announce yourself back as a League team. It’s the first game back from the Conference and Matt Green has just doubled Oxford’s lead after Simon Heslop’s thunderbolt. Oxford are right in the mood here, it could be a cricket score by the time we’ve finished.

24th minute: Mike Ford, Swindon Town, 1997

Are Oxford about to break their 24 year hoodoo at The County Ground? Great work by Nigel Jemson on the flank and an inviting cross onto the back post and there’s Mike Ford to nod home. He nearly collided with the post there, but I don’t think he cares. Great start for Oxford.

25th minute: Rob Hall, Sunderland, 2019

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant from Rob Hall. Sunderland hit the post in this League Cup tie, Oxford react with a blistering counterattack, the ball breaks loose to Rob hall who arrows it into the back of the net. 1-0.

26th minute: Nigel Jemson, Barnsley, 1997

They may be heading for the Premier League, but Barnsley look like they’ve been over-doing the celebrations a bit. Just 26 minutes gone and Oxford are two up with a brave header from Nigel Jemson. Barnsley look all at sea here, I don’t think that’s the end of the goals today.

27th minute: Yemi Odubade, Exeter City, 2007

Yemi Odubade has put Oxford United a goal up at the Kassam in the Conference semi-final play-off. You have to say, it’s against the run of play, but with an away goal in the bag from the first leg, the yellows are fully in charge in this one.

28th minute: Paul Moody, Cardiff City, 1994

Goal! I can’t quite believe what I’ve just seen, 28 minutes gone at Ninian Park and Paul Moody, Oxford’s big lumbering striker has danced his way past five defenders, running half the length of the field to given Oxford the lead. It was like watching Maradona in ’86, great movement from big man.

29th minute: James Constable, Rushden & Diamonds, 2010

Breakthrough goal at Nene Park now in the Conference semi-final first leg and who else but James Constable? Great work in the box, firing home on the turn. That’s the away goal they wanted. 1-0 Oxford.

30th minute: Nigel Jemson, Manchester City, 1996

Just half-an-hour gone and it’s already 2-2 at Maine Road after Nigel Jemson’s looping header dropped in just under the crossbar. Manager-less Manchester City look all over the shop. Lovely goal from the Us.

31st minute: Wes Thomas, Chesterfield, 2016

Great moment, Oxford have announced their return to League 1 after a fifteen year absence with a goal from new signing Wes Thomas who’s just tapped home Alex MacDonalds shot.

32nd minute: Andy Thomas, Newcastle United, 1983

Oxford are making second placed Newcastle look second rate here at The Manor in the Milk Cup. Andy Thomas made the first and now he’s scored the second. They don’t look like they’re finished yet.

33rd minute: John Lundstram, Leyton Orient, 2015

Big deflection, but they all count. It’s been billed as a bit of a revenge mission for what happened in 2006, and Oxford are bang on track as John Lundstram scores his first goal for the club to extend their lead. 2-0 to Oxford and just half-an-hour gone.

34th minute: Dean Saunders, Luton Town, 1988

Something’s going on at Kenilworth Road, just 34 minutes gone and Dean Saunders has pulled one back from the spot to make it 1-2. Both sides seem to be struggling with Luton’s plastic pitch, this could end up like a basketball score.

35th minute: Gary Briggs, Manchester United, 1988

Four years ago Oxford dumped Manchester United out of the Milk Cup, now they’re at it again. Gary Briggs has just launched himself through the United defence to connect with John Dreyer’s cross and head Oxford two-up. Fantastic diving header from Briggs, the real United are in the boss seat now.

36th minute: Tommy Caton, Liverpool, 1987

Over at The Manor in 1987 Tommy Caton has equalised for Oxford against champions Liverpool. Despite two great saves from Bruce Grobelaar, there was nothing he could do to prevent Caton forcing it home from two yards. Can Oxford pick up their first win over the Merseyside giants?

37th minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1984

Mixed news from The Manor in 1985. Striker, John Aldridge has just equalised for Oxford United against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. He headed home George Lawrence’s fine cross but was clattered by Pat Jennings. The stretcher is coming on, great goal by Aldridge, but at what price?

38th minute: Alfie Potter, Portsmouth, 2013

We leave The Manor as we’re getting news of an important goal for Oxford United at Fratton Park in 2013. Having gone a goal down, they equalised with Dean Smalley and have now taken the lead with a well taken goal from Alfie Potter latching onto Sean Rigg’s cross.

39th minute: Chris Maguire, Crawley Town, 2016

Equaliser at Crawley Town in 2016, good work down the right from Alex MacDonald, with Chris Maguire driving home from just inside the box. What’s the significance? We don’t know, this is much harder than it looks.

40th minute: Gary Briggs, Leeds United, 1984

BRIGGS! Oxford are on the comeback trail against Leeds United at The Manor. Two down, Gary Briggs connected with a fine Kevin Brock corner to make it 2-1. This team has goals in them, that’s really put Oxford on the front foot.

41st minute: David Rush, Wycombe Wanderers, 1996

Big breakthrough at Adams Park, Oxford are on quite a charge at the moment and David Rush has just connected with a deep cross from Les Robinson to open the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers. Big moment in breaking their duck against Wycombe, bigger moment in their promotion chase.

42nd minute: Billy Hamilton, Arsenal, 1984

Hold on a minute, let’s cross back to 1984. Oxford are down to ten men following John Aldridge’s injury for their first goal against Arsenal in the Milk Cup. And now they’ve done the unthinkable and taken the lead. The Manor is rocking after Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton connected with Dave Langan’s perfect cross.

43rd minute: Kemar Roofe, Millwall, 2016

With half-time around the grounds and throughout time looming, things are looking rosey at the New Den for the JPT semi-final first leg. Kemar Roofe has just nodded home his second goal latching onto John Lundstram’s audacious drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. That’s 2-0 and you’ve got to say Oxford have one foot in the final.

44th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Manchester City, 1998

Football’s a rollercoaster isn’t it? Oxford have already lost Stuart Massey to what looks like a bad injury, then on the stroke of half time a goal forged in the furnace of the Oxford United academy; Jamie Cook forced the defender into a mistake, the ball was picked up by Paul Powell who played it to Kevin Francis to square for Joey Beauchamp for the opening goal. No sugar in my tea, mum, that’s sweet enough.

45th minute: James Constable, Mansfield Town, 2013

Major goal at Mansfield in 2013. Moments after Mansfield Town had equalised James Constable latched onto Ryan Williams’ cross with the deftest touch to steer the ball into the far corner off the post. 2-1 Oxford, but more importantly, that’s Constable’s 100th goal for the club. What a milestone to reach.

***PEEP PEEP***

And that’s half-time. A first half full of action and drama. Oxford United will go in very satisfied with their first forty-five minutes’ work. Managers Chris Wilder, Mickey Lewis, Jim Smith, Maurice Evans, Denis Smith, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson will be looking for more of the same in the second half.

Paul Merson, you were going to say something before the game, any thoughts on how Oxford might approach the second half?

Well, Jeff…

46th minute: Kane Hemmings, Newcastle United, 2017

Sorry Merse, but we’ve got a goal at The Kassam already in the FA Cup against Newcastle United. Chris Maguire collected the ball on the right, crossed it to Chey Dunkley on the back post and Kane Hemmings was on hand to prod home the knockdown from close range. 1-0 Oxford and another cup giant killing is on the cards.

47th minute: John Durnin, Swindon Town, 1992

It’s a goalfest in the derby at the Manor, John Durnin has just got on the end of Chris Allen’s cross to make it 3-2. Big goal for Johnny Lager.

48th minute: Jamie Mackie, Lincoln City, 2019

Oxford cruising now at Sincil Bank as Jamie Mackie adds a third goal. A deft finish from the veteran striker, it’s like his foot was a sand wedge. With former manager and new Lincoln boss Michael Appleton watching on, everything they touch is turning to goals this afternoon.

49th minute: Joey Beauchamp, Nottingham Forest, 1998

Brilliant stuff from Joey Beauchamp at The County Ground, he’s just latched onto a Nigel Jemson header and volleyed it past the keeper for the opening goal.

50th minute: Alfie Potter, Northampton Town, 2014

I don’t quite know how he’s done it, but that one feels really sweet. Oxford are 2-1 up against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town, Alfie Potter has just weaved his way into the box and lobbed the ‘keeper from the tightest possible angle. What a way to stick it to your former boss.

52nd minute: Ray Houghton, Queens Park Rangers, 1986

Wonderful stuff now at Wembley, Oxford United in dreamland with a brilliantly worked goal that’s put them 2-0 up in the Milk Cup. Trevor Hebberd feeding Ray Houghton, beating the QPR offside trap to fire home. A goal to grace any final, we might want to prepare the yellow and blue ribbons now.

53rd minute: Andy Whing, Rochdale, 2013

Stop the count, stop the steal, I’ve seen it all now. It’s the last home game of the season and midfielder Andy Whing has just scored the goal of the season a bicycle kick from four yards out. He looks as shocked as everyone else.

54th minute: Martin Aldridge, Swindon Town, 1996

But, no time to dwell as we head back to The Manor where Martin Aldridge has just punished some poor goalkeeping to make it 2-0 against their deadly rivals.

55th minute: Jack Midson, Yeovil Town, 2009

They’ve looked the better team from the off and now they’ve made the breakthrough. Lovely through ball from Adam Murray and Jack Midson nips in between the ponderous Yeovil defence to lob the keeper. 1-0 and we have a giankilling on our hands.

56th minute: John Aldridge, Aston Villa, 1986

Penalty at Villa Park! Huge moment in this Milk Cup Semi-Final, just sixty seconds after Simon Stainrod had given Villa the lead, John Aldridge has been brought down by Alan Evans and now has a chance to equalise. Aldridge, bounces the ball on the spot as Steve Hodge does his best to put him off. And…

2-2! A massive goal in this tie, Oxford have a second away goal to take back to The Manor.

57th minute: Mark Sykes, Wycombe Wanderers, 2020

What was that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a cross? Is it a shot? Who knows? Mark Sykes has just blasted spectacular equaliser as Wembley in the play-off final.

58th minute: John Durnin, Tranmere Rovers, 1992

Lifeline at Prenton Park, Oxford have turned their domination into goals. The ball ricochets off an Oxford player and falls to John Durnin to runs through to give Oxford the lead. Blackburn are keeping their side of the bargain at Plymouth, can Oxford make it count and stay up?

59th minute: Kemar Roofe, Swansea City, 2016

Wonderful, wonderful stuff from Oxford as Kemar Roofe puts Oxford 3-1 up against Premier League Swansea City at the Kassam. A blistering break by Chris Maguire set up Roofe finish off the move with a neat finish. We’ve got a big FA Cup giant killing on our hands here.

60th minute: Kemar Roofe, Wycombe Wanderers, 2015

Roofe, again, on his debut this time. How does that work? It’s taken him ten games to get his first, now he’s got two against Wycombe at Adams Park. It was a bit of a daisy cutter, but you’ve got to say that’s going to give the young West Brom loanee confidence.

61th minute: Chris Maguire, Swindon Town, 2016

Oh my goodness, calamitous defending from Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium. They work the ball back to ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who tries to launch the ball downfield, but instead it canons off Oxford striker Chris Maguire in the net. What a shambles that club is. Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0.

62nd minute: Kemar Roofe, Bristol Rovers, 2015

That’s just different class. That boy Roofe is going places. Picks up the ball from Pat Hoban’s knock down 25 yards out and smashes it into the top corner.

63rd minute: Paul Moody, Swindon Town, 1995

Equaliser at The County Ground, and it’s a bit controversial. Les Robinson delivers a fairly innocuous cross into the box which Wayne Allison tries to control. He comes together with Matt Elliott and the ball runs loose to Paul Moody to fire home. Was that a foul by Elliott? We don’t know that we care at the moment.

64th minute: Peter Leven, Port Vale, 2012

Oh, oh, OH! You don’t save those. Only Peter Leven can do that. He’s just won the ball inside his own half, looked up and lobbed the ‘keeper from sixty yards out. Forget about goal of the season, that’s a goal of a lifetime.

65th minute: Jefferson Louis, Swindon Town, 2003

I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. Oxford lead in the FA Cup derby at The Kassam. Jefferson Louis has got the slightest touch on a long Scott McNiven throw and it’s crept through a crowd of players and into the net. Did Steve Basham get a touch on the line. Who knows? But, frankly, who cares?

66th minute: David Rush, Peterborough United, 1996

The shirt is off, it’s party time at the Manor. David Rush has just latched onto a long Mike Ford ball and poked it home for four-nil. That’s the clincher and that’s promotion. And doesn’t Rush know it, he’s got the corner flag out and is waving with triumph. And why not?

68th minute: Mark Rawle, Southend United, 2003

Miracles do happen. It’s been eleven years since Oxford went home with three points from Roots Hall, but Mark Rawle’s strike may just have ended that voodoo. Who wouldn’t bet against Oxford putting together a long winning streak against The Shrimpers in the future?

69th minute: Kevin Brock, Manchester United, 1983

Majestic. Kevin Brock has silenced Old Trafford with a brilliant free-kick in the Milk Cup. Manchester United must have thought this replay was just formality after the scare at The Manor a few days ago, but they know they’re in a game now. Manchester United 0 Oxford United 1.

70th minute: Adam Chapman, Burton Albion, 2009

What a party-pooper. 7000 Burton fans packed into the Pirelli Stadium expecting to celebrate their promotion to the Football League and Adam Chapman has just curled in a wonderful free-kick into the top corner to put Oxford a goal up. Twenty minutes to go, 1-0 to Oxford and the only noise you can hear is from the Oxford fans behind the goal.

71st minute: Dave Langan, Arsenal, 1985

Oxford are at it again, we’ve got another giant killing in the offing after Irish full-back Dave Langan just drove the ball in from 30 yards through the hands of Pat Jennings. I mean, you’ve got to expect him to do better than that, but that’s 3-2 with 19 minutes to go.

72nd minute: John Aldridge, Arsenal, 1986

Relax Oxford fans, the Us are staying up. John Aldridge has made it three-nil against Arsenal in this must-win game at The Manor. Two weeks after the euphoria of Wembley, the goal pretty much secures them a second season in the top flight.

73rd minute: Rob Hall, Swindon Town, 2017

Wow, that’s just about broken the net. Rob Hall’s just picked the ball up from 30 yards out and fired a howitzer into the top corner. Oxford have turned it around here at The County Ground. Swindon 1 Oxford 2 and that’s seven in a row.

74th minute: Liam Sercombe, Carlisle United, 2016

Phone your mum and tell her the Us are going up. Liam Sercombe has just given Oxford a 2-0 lead here at Carlisle with a low drive into the bottom corner sending the thousands of Oxford fans who have made the journey north into raptures. There are hotdogs everywhere.

75th minute: Liam Sercombe, Coventry City, 2017

And again, Sercombe seems to be everywhere at the moment. After being left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Wembley, Liam Sercombe has come on and is playing like a man possessed. He’s just bundled the ball home from close range to pull a goal back for Oxford against Coventry. Coventry 2 Oxford United 1. Game on!

76th minute: Danny Hylton, Barnsley, 2016

Lovely goal, and nothing more than they deserve. For long periods Oxford have been the better team in this JPT Final, and Danny Hylton has just headed home to make to 3-2 to Barnsley. Can they force extra-time here at Wembley?

77th minute: Dean Windass, Chelsea, 1999

Now then. Oxford United are on the verge of going bust and Dean Windass has just scored from the near post with thirteen minutes to go against the aristocrats of Chelsea. Can the paupers beat the princes in the FA Cup tonight?

78th minute: Roy Clayton, Manchester United, 1972

Manchester United have brought their triple threat of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton to The Manor, but nobody thought about Roy Clayton, whose just put Oxford in front at The Manor.

79th minute: Neil Slatter, Manchester United, 1986

Nightmare start for former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson at Manchester United here at The Manor, Neil Slatter has surely settled this making it 2-0 from close range. At this rate, Ferguson won’t last long at Old Trafford.

80th minute: Phil Edwards, Rotherham, 2017

Oxford have been absolutely magnificent against their Championship opponents in the FA Cup, and now they’ve just gone 2-1 up with Phil Edwards latching onto a Alex Macdonald cross.

81st minute: Les Phillips, Everton, 1986

There’s nothing Oxford United love more than spoiling a party. They’re at it again under the lights at The Manor, Les Phillips has just side-footed it home from just inside the box for 1-0. That’s put a massive dent in Everton’s title dreams and kept Oxford’s survival hopes alive.

82nd minute: Paul Moody, Dorchester Town, 1995

It’s a goal rush at The Manor. Paul Moody has just completed his hat-trick, blasting in Oxford’s ninth goal against Dorchester.

83rd minute: Joey Beauchamp, Blackpool, 1996

Is that goal of the day? Of this and any other day. Joey Beauchamp, hero of the London Road just collected the loose ball in midfield and sent it back from 40 yards out with interest. 1-0 Oxford, that’s a big statement in the promotion race.

84th minute Liam Kelly, Newcastle, 2020

Hang on a minute. Just when you thought it was all over, Liam Kelly has scored a brilliant free-kick to pull one back against Newcastle at The Kassam in the FA Cup. That’s got the crowd up again, I don’t think Oxford are quite finished yet.

85th minute: Marvin Johnson, Luton Town, 2017

My word, they’re flying in at the moment. That’s quite a strike from Marvin Johnson, cutting in from the left and sending a rocket into the top corner. Luton Town 2 Oxford United 3. It’s going to take a massive effort for the Hatters to pick themselves up again and prevent Oxford from heading to Wembley for the second time in two years.

86th minute: Nigel Jemson, Sheffield Wednesday, 1996

It’s been a tense game at The Manor against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but Nigel Jemson may have just snatched it in the dying moments prodding home Paul Moody’s knockdown from three yards. Four minutes left and Oxford are on track to knock the Premier League team out.

87th minute: Alan Kennedy (OG), Liverpool, 1985

Oxford are going to need a stroke of luck to stay in the First Division this season and they’ve just had some against the biggest team in the country. They’ve been hanging on for the whole game, but Peter Rhodes-Brown’s hopeful through ball has been put into his own net by Alan Kennedy for 2-2.

88th minute: Alfie Potter, Swindon Town, 2010

There’s been a breakthrough at The Kassam in the EFL Trophy, James Constable, who has been quiet all game, pounced on a Swindon defensive error squared the ball to the back post for Alfie Potter to slot home. Swindon can’t buy a win against their deadliest rivals.

89th minute: Todd Kane, Charlton Athletic, 2018

Brilliant stuff. Oxford United have no manager and no recognisable striker on the pitch, they’re 2-1 down as we enter the last minute. Great determination from Josh Ruffels on the flank who squares it to Todd Kane to side foot home. I don’t know if they can sneak a winner now, but they deserve it after this performance.

90th minute: Callum O’Dowda, Notts County, 2016

What might that mean come May? Alex MacDonald has just laid it off for Callum O’Dowda to drill the ball into the top left hand corner to make it Oxford United 3 Notts County 2 at Meadow Lane. A great way to start the New Year for the Yellows.

91st minute: Callum O’Dowda, Wycombe Wanderers 2016

O’Dowda! Again! Is there a more fitting way of securing promotion than seeing a hometown boy weaving his way through the Wycombe defence to fire home from close range. That’s three. And that’s promotion.

92nd minute: Shandon Baptiste, West Ham United, 2019

They’ve left the best ’til last at The Kassam, Shandon Baptiste has put icing on the cake of a magnificent performance weaving through West Ham’s beleaguered defence and slotting home from the left. The gulf in class has been massive.

93rd minute: Pat Hoban, Luton Town, 2015

Yes! No! Yes! Just when you thought the drama was over. Late late equaliser at Kenilworth Road for Oxford United, after Kemar Roofe dragged Oxford back into the game two minutes ago, with the board showing three minutes of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball drop to Pat Hoban who scuffed at it and then prodded home at the second attempt for 2-2. Crazy scenes in the away end.

94th minute: Jamie Mackie, Bradford City, 2019

OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Massive, massive goal at the Kassam Stadium in the League 1 relegation battle against Bradford City. Bradford have spurned a glorious chance, completely missing an open goal. From the resultant goal kick, Josh Ruffels sent a raking ball to Gavin Whyte whose shot popped up, then Jamie Mackie came marauding through on the volley and slammed it home. Sensational scenes here.

No, wait, what’s happening now? The ref’s not allowed it. What’s going on? A Bradford penalty? Oxford are surrounding the ref pleading with him. Now he’s talking to his linesmen. And. And. It’s a goal, Oxford have snatched this at the death. What a finish.

***PEEP PEEP***

‘Merse, it’s been such a hectic afternoon, we didn’t even get a chance to find out your thoughts about today’s action.’

‘No problem Jeff, the thing is Jeff. I just can’t see where Oxford’s goals are going to come from this afternoon. I fear for them, I really do.’

A tribute to Micky Lewis

I once saw Micky Lewis coming out of the garage outside The Manor in Headington. He was unshaven, holding a tabloid newspaper and drinking a can of Coke. He’d probably just finished training, but he looked like he’d just finished a night on the town.

I hadn’t seen many footballers outside their natural habitat before, my prevailing image was either of them on the pitch or posing in outlandish designer clothes that screamed money! Fame! Girls! Micky looked so normal I’d have missed him if he hadn’t been outside the ground wearing an Oxford training top.

His signing in 1988 signalled a sea change at the club, he arrived from Derby County as part of the deal which took the Milk Cup Final man-of-the-match Trevor Hebberd to the Baseball Ground. It represented something of a changing of the guard from the glory years to something quite different. None-the-less having been relegated from Division 1 the season before, he was part of Mark Lawrenson’s plan for an immediate turn to the top flight.

That dream crumbled as Lawrenson resigned and owner Robert Maxwell’s financial problems started to bite. Maxwell died in 1991 with debts of up to £1 billion which compounded Oxford’s emotional crisis with a financial one. 

Suddenly, the club were plunged into survival mode with Brian Horton building a team of hard working professionals designed to keep our head above water in Division 2. It was the perfect challenge for Lewis, as the club threatened to fall apart, he tightened the bolts holding things together from midfield. We may be outplayed, but we’d never be outfought. 

Never flamboyant – he averaged a goal every fifty games – he understood that whatever he lacked in ability he made up for with hard work and commitment. Players are brought up to dream about scoring goals and dazzling crowds, but hard work is always a value managers appreciate. Micky knew that, by sacrificing himself for the greater good, he would become indispensable.  

There is no great story arc with Lewis, no heroic career-defining moment, he just never had a bad game, weaving himself into the culture of the club along the way. He marshalled the midfield as the club miraculously escaped relegation in 1992 at Tranmere, beat Leeds in the FA Cup in 1994, he came on to replace Martin Gray when we were promoted against Peterborough in 1996 and, in 1999, supposedly retired, was drafted in as the club suffered an injury crisis, bolstering the midfield as we put Everton out of the League Cup at Goodison Park. 

But, mostly he just played; week in, week out over a period of nearly twelve years. With money leaking from every pore of the club, each point he helped to secure, each fan who appreciated his efforts enough to return to watch us the following week, he gave us another thread of survival.

Did the club shape Micky’s attitude or vice versa? Perhaps he sensed the jeopardy the club were in. Its failure could have had a devastating impact on his career, managers valued what he offered, but they weren’t clamoring for his signature with a blank cheque. The relationship he had with Oxford was symbiotic.

Fans called him Mad Dog, but he was never dirty. He never pulled out of a tackle and would be a ferocious competitor, but there was never any malice. He did simple things well, giving a platform to the likes of Jim Magilton, Paul Simpson and Joey Beauchamp to shine. Each one, of course, secured big money moves as a result. 

He took that commitment and generosity into coaching, that sense of sacrifice for the greater good. His bouts as caretaker manager returned unspectacular results, but countless managers saw what he offered on the training ground. 

When Chris Wilder took over in 2008, Micky may have been sent packing. He had returned to become assistant to Darren Patterson and it would have been within Wider’s right to have a clean break. But, Wilder needed to strike a balance; to use the club’s relative size in the Conference as an asset, but not to become too arrogant. Size and reputation alone wouldn’t deliver promotion, it had to be underpinned with commitment and a solid work ethic. Within Micky Lewis he had a man who embodied the spirit of the club. 

Wilder and Lewis forged a culture of all-in commitment to a cause which culminated in play-off success at Wembley against York City. From the financial failures two decades earlier, the club found a firm footing to begin the climb back to where they’d once been. Perhaps it was his greatest gift to the club.

Most players don’t sit on piles of cash once they’re spat out into the real world at the end of their career. Their bodies are battered, their education compromised, they go from adulation to anonymity. Reputations don’t pay the bills but after years of grafting, Micky Lewis’ investment in the people around him served him well. Micky did what he knew, he kept going, working hard, giving his all.

Micky was ranked our 14th favourite player of the 90s; they won’t name a stand after him or build a statue. He was the kind of player you miss mostly when they’re gone. But, when they do go, the shock is felt more deeply, they don’t just entertain us as fans, they encompass our values. In a sense, they are a part of what you are. To lose that is a cruel blow.

Of course, for his family, their loss is deeper and more profound than anything felt by the club or fans. But, perhaps they might take a crumb of comfort in seeing the impact Micky Lewis had on so many people.  

Legacies are judged by what you leave behind; the values that underpinned Micky’s career saved the club as it plunged into crisis, dived, survived and resurrected itself. They were the same values that were invested in the hundreds of players he coached. There is a little bit of Micky in each of those players. Perhaps they will pass it on to the next generation of Oxford players. That spirit, an Oxford United spirit, will no doubt live on long after he’s gone.