Midweek fixture: Eight moments that remind us why we support Oxford United

Most of the time supporting Oxford United is a miserable experience. Then, every now and then, there’s a moment which reminds you why you do it. Here are eight moments which make it all worthwhile.

2009 Jamie Cook versus Luton

The aim for the season is promotion back to the Football League. The division’s other fallen giant, Luton Town, are in town. Over 10,000 turn up for this clash of the titans, we take the lead, then Jamie Cook sells the stadium a dummy and goes for goal.

2012 Peter Leven versus Port Vale

A so-so game against a so-so team in a so-so season. Mercurial playmaker Peter Leven breaks down a Port Vale attack in his own half, nudges the ball forward, then looks up. He hasn’t, has he? Yes, I think he has.

2013 Alfie Potter versus Portsmouth

Relegated but rejuvenated, Portsmouth sell out the opening game of the season; billed as a celebration of their club’s re-awakening. We’re the stooges for the occasion, there to be sacrificed for the entertainment of the locals. The script says they take the lead which they do, then Alfie Potter tears the script up and throws it in a bin fire.

2014 Nicky Rowe versus Wycombe Wanderers

Despite dominating our game against Wycombe at Adams Park, we can’t make the breakthrough. Then, with two minutes to go, Nicky Rowe picks the ball up just outside the box and lets fly with the sweetest strike you’ll ever see.

2016 Liam Sercombe versus Carlisle

Despite a season of highlights, with three games to go we need three wins to secure promotion. Hundreds make the journey north for the last game of the season against Carlisle. We take the lead early, but the signature moment of the game, of the season, of the decade, is Liam Sercombe’s marauding second. Absolute limbs.

2017 Toni Martinez versus Middlesborough

Limbs (part 2). An enjoyable run in the FA Cup is all set to end as Middlesborough take a two goal lead. It’s all over. Or is it?

2018 Ryan Ledson versus Charlton

Nothing seems to be going right; we’ve lost our manager and seem unable to get a new one. We head to Charlton, managed by Karl Robinson, who are threatening the play-offs and lose our only recognised striker to injury. With two minutes to go, we’re 1-2 down. Seconds later, we’re all square and heading for a decent, and important point. That’s never enough for Ryan Ledson.

2019 Jamie Mackie versus Bradford

We’re in the 94th minute of a relegation six pointer and Bradford are just about to score the winner to tear our hearts out and potentially send us down. They miss, we take the goal-kick, and seven seconds later, the ball drops for Jamie Mackie for a goal for the ages. Then things get really weird.

Middlesborough wrap – Middlesborough 3 Oxford United 2

The magic of the FA Cup sometimes feels like having a fire hose rammed into your mouth. You’re forced to consume it in massive overwhelming quantities until you’d rather be dead than have to take  any more.
Magic, like religion, is a convenient way of explaining things so complex and nuanced that you can’t come up with a rational explanation for it. The FA Cup offers the unique magic of possibility; that a non-league team can compete with a mega-giant of the game, but this is simply because it’s the only  competition that doesn’t stratify or seed teams so that the big teams have to mix with the riff raff. And then there are the magic of shocks, but if you think about the thousands of games that have been played in 145 years of the competition, by the law of averages some of those games will have unexpected outcomes. 
But what about that magical unerring belief anything can happen and that your name is on the cup? Yes, but every team starts every game in the FA Cup off the back of a win, it creates a sense of being unbeatable, that something is pre-destined. It is only when reality bites and you’re knocked out that the truth slams home.
All this ‘magic’ is what drives 3,500 people to travel 230 miles in the hope, against all the odds, that they will be witness to some kind of miraculous moment. It is a ludicrous, reckless gamble.
For forty-five minutes against Middlesborough it looked like normality was being stamped all over those hopes. The injustices of the Premier League, the dog muck of their excessive wealth rubbed into our faces. First through a clumsy penalty, then through a French Beninese reserve. The fact that a team like Middlesborough can sign a Beninese international to not play for them compared to our star player being imported from Motherwell illustrates the gulf that exists. 
And at 2-0 that was pretty much that, or so we thought. Were we going to take an embarrassing  beating? Maybe it was going to be even worse; maybe Middlesbrough would simply hold us while we huffed and puffed. A humiliation and humbling in front of our own fans, their fans and the TV audience.
But, Middlesbrough have the fourth worst form in the Premier League and Oxford the third best in League 1. If relegation and promotion were based on short term form – relevant in a one-off game like this – then we could easily be facing them as equals in the Championship. There may still be a gap, but the League 1/Premier League chasm can be reduced very quickly in the short term.
And with this secret still intact, plus a deepening muscle memory of belief, there lies an ember of hope. Chris Maguire ignites the fire when Guzan leaves a gap so large it might as well be a metaphor for his complacency. A little flick and it’s 2-1. 
And then sixty seconds in which all the investment is worth it; every trip to St Albans or Tonbridge, every false hope signing, watching jealously as Steve Basham registers a hat-trick against us for Hayes and Yeading. A mass of fans who have travelled a combined distance equivalent to circumventing the globe 50 times, fans that have come in blind faith just to watch the game. Oxford swarm forward in audacious belief, the ball sweeps left to Maguire whose shot drops to Martinez. Goal.
The limbs, as they say, the limbs and limbs and limbs; cascading down the stands. Proper, decent people; the rich who hide their anxieties, the poor who fear the rich, people who live in darkened times, who pay taxes and mortgages, who fret about their futures, who lie awake worrying about their families are pulsing with joyous disbelief.  As one, bonded through the decades, the shared experience that is often the trudge of defeat but occasionally the splatter of victory. This is the magic, right in this moment. 
At the very moment the magic surges it begins to subside. Finally the re-adjustment comes and Stuani prods home for 3-2. Does it matter? For that blissful sixty seconds has created a fusion, an unbreakable bond that makes this marvelous club what it is and will continue to be.