We may still be recovering from the glory of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, but Oxford are already back in league action again with the visit of Exeter City to the Kassam. And what better way to recover from 90 gruelling minutes against higher league opposition on Wednesday than a fiercely competitive match against a side who are one place above us on goal difference?
Exeter didn't fare quite so well during the week, losing on penalties to Aldershot after the 90 minutes finished goalless. However, their league form has been impressive; a disappointing 3-0 defeat at home to Morecambe on the opening day was immediately consigned to history with three successive victories, including back-to-back 3-0 wins against Accrington and Burton in their last two league games.
Having rested several players for the Swindon game, expect to see a few changes from midweek, with players like Smalley, Rigg and Heslop who have had a full week to recover and prepare for this match hopefully ready to step in and provide some fresh legs. Exeter will have fresh legs of their own, with captain Danny Coles returning to the side after missing out during the week. It will be something of a reunion for Ryan Clarke, who used to live with Coles while the two were at Bristol Rovers together.
This will be the first time Oxford have faced Exeter since the Conference days and history is certainly not on our side. We have only beaten Exeter once in regular league football in the last 30 years – that's one win in 13 matches. However, we have had good luck against bogey sides lately, allaying the Southend hoodoo with a comfortable 2-0 win and extending our winning run against Swindon – once our ultimate bogey side – to four matches this week. The two sides have had their fair share of interesting encounters in recent years (Exeter's last visit to the Kassam, a 2-2 draw sticks in the memory), but the one which stands out is obviously THAT play-off semi-final.
On a sidenote, Alan Hodgkinson is the guest of honour for the match, following his retirement after 60 years of service to the game. He deserves a fantastic reception.
From the Vaults
Oxford United v Exeter City, 8th May 2007
It is a sign of Oxford's gradual decline since the 1980s that we had never featured in an end of season play-off match until 2007. Our first match went well and United returned from Devon with a lead from the first leg. With a goal advantage, a home tie and a Wembley anthem on standby, what could possibly go wrong?