Reflections on a rollercoaster week for Oxford United

Ahead of a Saturday-Friday period where the U’s would take on three teams at the top end of Sky Bet League One, most people realistically knew results would reflect both the physical challenge, but also the toughness of the fixtures.

The week of three home games began in superb fashion though, as United sent a message to the rest of the play-off challengers, and those still waiting for a ‘statement result’ under Des Buckingham.

READ ALSO: Oxford United drop out of play-off places after win for Lincoln City

Peterborough United arrived as the leading scorers in League One, with a squad stacked with attacking talent, and a manager who has been here and done this on repeat. Darren Ferguson has been promoted with the Posh on four occasions. He knows what he’s doing.

But by full-time, he was telling the media his side could’ve lost by ten. Buckingham’s side were scintillating in the final third, and more importantly, unnervingly ruthless.

In addition to the five goals scored without reply, the U’s hit the post twice, and carved out other notable opportunities.

The display left fans purring, and many considered whether it wasn’t just the best performance in recent memory, but one of the best ever at the Kassam Stadium.

Going into that sunny afternoon, United were sixth and two points clear of seventh-placed Lincoln City. By the end of the day, the U’s remained sixth, but were now three points clear of Blackpool after the Imps lost 2-1 at home to Wigan Athletic.

 

Herald Series: Ruben Rodrigues celebrates his second goal against Peterborough UnitedRuben Rodrigues celebrates his second goal against Peterborough United (Image: Mike Allen)

Lincoln were of course the next team up at Grenoble Road, on a Tuesday night under the lights.

Two chances each for Tyler Goodrham and Mark Harris in the first half went begging, and United were punished in the harshest manner just moments into the second period.

Ruben Rodrigues was adjudged to have brought down Ben House, but replays show the Portuguese playmaker won the ball with his tackle.

Danny Mandroiu converted from the spot, and then the Imps used every trick in the book to grind out the three points. Some criticised the way they played the second half, but that’s just football. They played the game, and they played it well.

The result meant that Lincoln closed the gap to the U’s to two points, with all the challengers now onto their final couple of games.

Herald Series: Danny Mandroiu scores from the penalty spot against Oxford UnitedDanny Mandroiu scores from the penalty spot against Oxford United (Image: Mike Allen)

United had the psychological advantage of playing first, on the Friday night against Stevenage, but the physical disadvantage of a clogged schedule.

The U’s knew three points would’ve put them in a commanding position going into the final day, but again they found themselves against a well-drilled, well-organised team looking to prove a point after the exit of influential manager Steve Evans just two days earlier.

Stevenage nudged ahead through a fortuitous Sam Long own goal, and then did exactly what you’d expect of them. They defended low, kept their shape superbly, and denied United any space to work in.

Cameron Brannagan’s penalty just before the hour mark looked then to be the catalyst for a turnaround, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The draw opened the door for the Imps, who won at Cheltenham Town, and combined with Blackpool’s victory at home to Barnsley, it means four sides will be fighting for two play-off spots on the final day.

Barnsley in fifth, and eighth-placed Blackpool, are separated by just two points. Sandwiched in the middle are the Imps and the U’s, both on the same points total, with the former boasting a better goal difference by five.

The congestion of those four teams means anything can still happen. Blackpool can go all the way up to fifth, while Barnsley can drop to eighth.

It means that on the final day, there will be twists, turns, and then some more just for good measure.

It’s certainly not over for United, even though they know they’re relying on one of Barnsley or Lincoln to wobble.

Strap yourself in because the League One rollercoaster is getting set for one more run this season.

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