As I’m sure Black Cats fans are aware of by now, League One is not the easiest division to escape from. You can most fit most clubs into one of three categories, first there are the ‘giants’ of the Premier League or Championship who find themselves languishing down here after a few unfortunate seasons but are always on the verge of clicking and putting a promotion charge together. Secondly, we have the largest group; the stalwarts of League One and Two, always the bridesmaid and never the bride bouncing between the two divisions for decades without ever seriously threatening the second tier. And finally, we have a very few clubs pushing towards bridging that increasingly difficult and elusive promotion possibility to the Championship.
I won’t need to inform you which category you fall into but we’ve been hinting at joining that final group for a couple of seasons but it really did click into place last season and we were charging towards the automatic promotion places at full speed prior to the postponement and later cancellation of league matches. The playoffs were a strange affair, by far our most important matches since our previous playoff campaign a decade earlier which saw us leave the non-league behind at last. Yet despite the gravity of the prize on offer, it’s hard to feel it after months without a game and seeing our boys in yellow walking out to a quiet, empty Wembley. I think I speak for most Oxford fans when I say if you play that game out ten times, we’d win eight or nine of them. Sometimes it’s just not your day, and I guess that’s why we travel across the country week in, week out to matches that on paper are a foregone conclusion.
I’ve very much enjoyed the meetings we’ve had with Sunderland in recent years, two clubs in very different circumstances not wanting to give an inch to the other where every match could go either way until the final whistle. Having been to all but one of our recent five meetings, I’m very comfortable in saying that with the ball dropping slightly differently here and there we could have won all of them but as is the way with such tight games, I’m sure many Sunderland fans would say the same.
Being so early in the season, I’m very unsure as to how we’ll bounce back after our almost never-ending campaign. With most clubs at this level, there’s a reasonably substantial amount of squad churn between seasons largely due to the dependency of loan signings but for Oxford there hasn’t been many surprises in terms of departures, we were all expecting our commanding centre back Rob Dickie to move away but were delighted to see Cameron Brannagan and Matty Taylor sign new contracts along with our manager Karl Robinson. There’s been some fantastic commitment to the club both on and off the field from the board and despite the disappointment of how last season ended, there’s a distinct feeling of optimism in the direction we’re taking.