This year, as with last year, Oxford have been denied a lucrative home fixture on Boxing Day. But ten years ago, in our first season at Minchery Farm, the then-new stadium was to play host to a fiery encounter between Oxford and Luton in front of what was then a record crowd of 11,121.
To examine the wider context of the match requires us to look back to the previous season, our last at the Manor. With the club rooted to the bottom of the table with just five points from the first 16 games under the calamitous leadership of David Kemp, Kassam turned to his 'friend' Joe Kinnear for help. Coming in as Director of Football, Kinnear immediately set about recruiting a host of new faces to the Manor, bringing in Phil Gray, Keith Andrews, Keith Brown, Andy Scott and Rob Quinn. However, after just 101 days in the job Kinnear resigned due to 'family and health reasons' before making a remarkable recovery to take up the job at fellow-strugglers Luton Town just days later – angering the Oxford faithful in the process.
The two sides were to meet just months later, as United – by now as good as relegated – travelled to Kenilworth Road, earning just their second away draw of the season to drag Luton and Kinnear one step closer to joining us in the fourth tier. It was a bad day for Kinnear, who was subjected to constant abuse from the travelling Oxford fans, our late equaliser being scored by Andy Scott, who had been brought to the Manor by Kinnear himself!
The following season Oxford again earned a 1-1 draw away at Kenilworth Road, with Andy Scott finding the net once more. However, despite its similarities to the previous season's encounter, much had changed over the summer. Kassam had appointed the next in his succession of appalling managers in Mark Wright, and Oxford struggled in that first season in the fourth tier. Luton, meanwhile, had given Kinnear an enormous pot of cash to play with in a bid to win promotion back to Division Two at the first attempt – a strategy that would later prove to be even more disastrous than Kassam's.
So as Luton made their first trip to the Kassam on Boxing Day 2001, they did so firmly entrenched in the automatic promotion race, with Oxford struggling near the bottom, Mark Wright having already departed. It was Kinnear's first return to Oxford since his defection, and his numerous provocative outbursts (for example, calling Kassam a 'prat' and labelling the Oxford fans 'Muppets' ahead of the previous meeting between the two clubs) during that time had only served to fan the flames.
We understandably started the match on the front foot, though were unable to create any chances, but the Hatters soon began to assert themselves on the match and heaped pressure on the United defence. However it was Oxford who took the lead against the run of play, Andy Scott latching onto a Paul Powell pass and slotting it past the Luton goalkeeper. Parity was rightly restored late in the first half as Luton were allowed to pass the ball around the Oxford area with no intervention from the defence, enabling Dean Crowe to scuff a shot which trickled past Ian McCaldon in goal. The reverse was complete just seconds into the second half, with Matthew Taylor scoring in similar fashion to the first. Oxford never threatened to equalise and the bumper Boxing Day home crowd went home disappointed, allowing Kinnear to crow after the match.