Sunday, 19 August 2012

Why the Fixture List Could Provide the Final Piece of the Promotion Puzzle

The season is well an truly underway and it couldn't have started better for Oxford United. Progression in the League Cup, enticing cup fixtures to look forward to against Leeds and Swindon,and an excellent win away at Bristol Rovers to kick off the league campaign. We welcome Jack Willows, editor of 90 Minutes Up, to discuss why this year's fixture list may have been kinder Oxford than first meets the eye...

It's no secret, United severely fell off the pace towards the end of last season, resulting in them not winning any of their last 7 matches. This was due to injuries to key players, mixed with un-suitable replacements. Whatever the reason, here's why I believe this could be Oxford's year. 

Oxford have started the season in perfect fashion; a 2-0 win over promotion favourites, Bristol Rovers. After the game, I, as I always do, looked at the fixture list for the coming weeks. Southend visit the Kassam on Tuesday, another team that will be fighting for promotion, saying it'll be a "tough test" is understatement. However, after the performance yesterday, I would expect us to have enough to certainly take at least a point from it. Following the visit of Southend, United have a run of 6 games, which in my opinion are all winnable. Home matches with Plymouth, Exeter and Bradford should all be straight-forward enough. On the road, it won't be such a formality. A trip to York on the 1st September looks a tricky test and also trips to Burton and Cheltenham are never easy. Nevertheless, including our win over Rovers, I honestly believe Oxford should aim for 20 points, out of a possible 24, a difficult, however realistic challenge. 

If United can reach the 20 point mark before arguably the toughest game of the season, a trip to Rotherham, they'll have a solid platform to build on, ahead of a tricky run of fixtures. 

I'm sure Chris Wilder's relatively satisfied with Oxford's openers, however, he'll be aware not to take anything for granted, regardless of the opposition. 

One could say the winter months will define our season. Between December and February, Oxford welcome, title favourites, Rotherham, as well as Bristol Rovers, York, Cheltenham and Fleetwood. Tough fixtures, granted. But not only are they all at home, United produced some of their finest football during the festive period and beyond last campaign. 

Oxford only lost once between December and the beginning of March, a period which also saw United complete their double over Swindon. 

It's simple, you have to play everyone twice. What better time to play your toughest matches than when you're seemingly hitting the ground running? Yes, I am aware it could different this season, perhaps we'll enjoy a solid end of the season instead. 

So with our "easier" fixtures early on and our "tough" ones during a period where Oxford usually strive; it's clear we've been lucky this time around! And it doesn't stop there. 

Last season Oxford fell off the pace in the last couple of months, however, after looking at our run-in, I would argue we couldn't have hoped for a better one. During the course of March and April I would predict that only one of the teams we have to play will be challenging for automatic promotion (Chesterfield). Again, it's not to say they're straight-forward, with games against Torquay, Morecambe, Wycombe and Rochdale, it'll be anything but. However, I think we could avoid defeat during the final couple of months - putting us in contention for a very strong finish. 

Looking at the fixture list honestly fills me with confidence. Ofcourse it will still take a lot of concentration and strong performances, however, this could prove the difference. After all, Oxford weren't all that far off last season. 

Jack Willows, Editor of "90 Minutes Up" -

Don't forget, you can view the fixtures for Oxford's first team, women's team and youths on our Fixtures page.

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