MICHAEL Appleton is hoping Oxford United’s players return to training today refreshed and revitalised to finish the season strongly.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Walsall was the culmination of a hectic fixture list, which saw the U’s play 17 games in the space of eight weeks.
Since the home victory over Milton Keynes Dons on February 11, United have been flat-out, with runs in the Emirates FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy adding to their Sky Bet League One schedule.
But at the first sign of a blank midweek, head coach Appleton took the opportunity to rest his squad.
After being given Monday and Tuesday off, United’s players now begin their preparations for a busy Easter weekend, which begins with Friday’s trip to Bradford City.
Appleton said: “The amount of games we’ve had is incredible and the players deserved a few days off.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to do it all season because of the success we’ve had in the cups, so it was a well-earned rest.
“We’ve got two big games (Bradford and Port Vale) in four days.
“They’re going to have to make sure they’re more than healthy going into those games and, probably more than anything, fresh mentally.”
United started 18 different players across the hectic two-month period, with goalkeeper Simon Eastwood in the XI for all 17 games, while John Lundstram, Chey Dunkley and Curtis Nelson featured 16 times.
The last ten days have been particularly testing for the U’s, following the defeat to Coventry City in the Checkatrade Trophy final.
Their slim play-off hopes were also ended in last Wednesday’s loss at home to Fleetwood Town.
And after a battling 1-1 draw at Walsall on Saturday, Appleton believes the rest will prove beneficial.
He said: “I think it’s just good to be away from each other.
“We’ve been living in each other’s pockets for the last nine or ten months.
“I know we’re going to have a bit of an extended break with the summer and the season coming to an end, but I hope the players made the most of the rest.”
UNITED’S STARTERS IN LAST 17 GAMES
17 – Eastwood
16 – Dunkley, Nelson, Lundstram
15 – Edwards, Johnson
12 – Maguire
11 – Ledson, McAleny
10 – Hall
9 – Sercombe
8 – Martinez, Hemmings
7 – Skarz
6 – Ruffels, Rothwell
2 – Raglan, Carroll