After an excellent first few games, things seem to have fallen apart slightly in recent weeks. And with confidence and morale reaching a new low after Saturday's mauling at the hands of Burton Albion, another tricky away tie in quick succession is probably the last thing we needed.
However, Cheltenham also seem to be stuck in a rut of their own. Last year's beaten play-off finalists seem to be suffering from a hangover and have picked up just eight points this season, currently finding themselves in 15th place. They have only won once at home this season from four games and come into this match on the back of a 3-1 home defeat to Southend. Cheltenham have yet to win in September (we at least have a JPT win under our belts this month) and seem to have been undone by some poor defensive performances. It would be a foolish gambler who puts money on this one finishing goalless, with Oxford conceding 11 in their last three games and Cheltenham conceding seven.
Both sides will have important players returning. Chris Zebroski will be available for selection for Cheltenham after missing the Southend game with illness, while for us James Constable returns from his ban and Jake Forster-Caskey will hopefully have recovered from an illness of his own.
There are a couple of familiar faces in the Cheltenham ranks. First, the aforementioned Chris Zebroski – according to Rage Online the only player whose last name begins with a Z to pull on the yellow shirt – who made ten appearances in the 2006-07 season. Zebroski has scored goals everywhere else he's been, but failed to make an impact at Oxford. His most telling contribution was a missed penalty in the play-off semi-final against Exeter. Another familiar face is that of Sam Deering. Deering got his first break in professional football at Oxford and was a regular member of the team during the Conference years, before being released at the end of the 2010-11 season and joining Barnet. He acquitted himself reasonably well there and earned himself a move to Cheltenham, where he has so far been a regular.
Cheltenham are another of those sides that we have struggled to beat in recent years. We haven't won against the Robins since 2005, a run which stretches for seven games. Last season a high-flying Cheltenham turned up at the Kassam to deliver a 3-1 beating, but the two sides ground out a 0-0 draw at Whaddon Road in their last meeting. Mark Yates seems to have the measure over Wilder; the two managers have met 13 times and Wilder has emerged victorious just once, back in 2006 (Wilder's record against Yates: DWLLLLLDLDDLD).
From the Vaults
Oxford United v Cheltenham Town, 2nd August 2008
Oxford fans are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the moment with the current run of form and perceived lack of progress being made at the club. But cast your minds back a few years to when things were REALLY bad: when Cheltenham visited the Kassam in a glamorous pre-season friendly.