There are so many positives for Oxford fans to take from this game that it's difficult to know where to start. Saturday's performance righted all the problems from United's string of home draws in emphatic fashion, as the team really turned on the style for Ultimate Support Saturday in front of an impressive crowd of 9291.
To pull in over 9000 people (admittedly swelled by the 1600 from Bristol Rovers – by far the biggest travelling support to come to Oxford this season) for a regular mid-season match against a side who are not rivals in either a geographical or competitive sense is impressive and again demonstrates the potential of the club.
Most importantly, Oxford won at home; despite being unbeaten in our five home matches so far this season, we had only won one of those and had developed a nasty habit of throwing away leads. Having got our noses in front during what was a very even first half, anyone who had witnessed earlier second-half home displays could be forgiven for feeling slightly nervous at the 1-0 scoreline, despite Oxford's positive performance. Any nagging doubts were soon banished, as the side continued to play positive, attacking football and at the end of the match 3-0 was a fair scoreline.
As well as maintaining an attacking impetus we were solid at the back as well, restricting Rovers to little more than half chances when they were chasing the game. Even had we not continued on the front foot, with such an assured defensive performance there was never any danger of Bristol Rovers finding the net in the second half. It was yet another imperious performance from Michael Duberry, who has barely put a foot wrong all season and his presence has had a greatly positive impact on Jake Wright, who has improved considerably so far this season and looks far less prone to mistakes than he did last season, as he continues to grow into his role as captain. Another clean sheet means we now have the best defensive record in the league, which certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.
Yet another positive was the return to form of James Constable. Fans were understandably beginning to ask questions of him after failing to find the back of the net throughout the month of September, but he answered his critics emphatically with Saturday's brace, the intensity of his performance serving as a reminder of the James Constable of old. Spare a thought, though, for Deane Smalley; After a difficult start to his Oxford career he finally got off the mark during the week with a goal in Tuesday's JPT match at Aldershot and I personally felt that he should have been rewarded for this with a start on Saturday ahead of the misfiring Constable. But as Constable set about proving me wrong Smalley was again reduced to a cameo performance, making it onto the pitch for just the final two minutes of the match.
Overall, though, the weekend leaves Oxford fans with a wealth of positives. Securing that elusive second home victory breaks that particular hoodoo and serves to illustrate Oxford's impressive form – four wins in the last five league matches. Back at the beginning of September I wrote of how Oxford's record and performances displayed no noticeable improvement on last season, but a quick comparison to this last time last year shows that considerable strides have indeed been made. There has been no standout moment to demonstrate any dramatic moment when United's form turned around, recent results and performances have instead suggested that things have begun to click into place and the side has begun to pick up momentum. Not every match will be as impressive as this one, but this Oxford side seems to be finding its feet in time to make a strong challenge for promotion.