KELVIN Thomas believes an improvement in conditioning is the main lesson to be learned after Oxford United fell narrowly short of their target this sea-son.

The U’s began the campaign looking to claim a play-off place in npower League Two and were on course to succeed before collapsing in the final weeks of the season.

While a ninth-place finish was the club’s best for eight years, a return of three points from the final seven games saw the campaign fizzle out on a low note.

The main source of disappointment for United’s chairman is the club had a strong enough squad to compete at the sharp end – injuries permitting.

He said: “I think most people would safely say that if they stayed fit and performed to the levels they can then that squad gets in the play-offs and potentially even better.

“We saw throughout the season we competed with the top teams, possibly Crawley away (a 4-1 defeat) and Cheltenham at home (a 3-1 loss) were the only times we got tanked by anybody.

“We have to look at the reasons why we didn’t get into the play-offs, I’ve said I think overall our strength and conditioning was decent, but not at a level that was going to push us into the play-offs.”

Injuries hit the vast majority of the squad at some stage and in the cases of key players such as Alfie Potter and Tom Craddock, the U’s were deprived of major assets for months on end.

It led to a situation where loan players were drafted in as replacements and at some stages they made up a significant proportion of the starting XI.

In response United are looking at several ways to overhaul their conditioning to avoid a repeat next season.

They are looking to learn from techniques used by rugby league giants Wigan Warriors – who are owned by U’s chief Ian Lenagan – and planning to appoint a full-time conditioning coach.

Thomas said: “We have to look at the whole area and I think it’s potentially one area we need to invest in and get more quality in there in terms of personnel on the sports science side.

“I think we’re going to look to get a bit more experience in that department to help (manager) Chris (Wilder) on that side of things to help really kick it on and hopefully change the structure so we’re doing things the right way.

“Hopefully that will improve the injury situation, but we have to look at it over a four-year period as well – in the time Chris has been in we haven’t had that many injuries and then one year when it’s really hit us.

“Some of that’s luck, some is conditioning. We’re going to improve the conditioning and hopefully the luck will turn around.”

Thomas admitted there was disappointment in missing out on the top seven, but is keen to take some perspective.

The U’s chairman said: “Let’s be realistic, it wasn’t a relegation season and overall we had a chance of the play-offs until the last game of the season.

“Because we finished so badly I think you end up on more of a down than if we had shown a bit of strength.

“But we always make our decisions based on the longer term, we don’t make knee-jerk decisions at this football club, so we’re going to build and go again.”

He added: “I think ability-wise we’re right up there, I just think we need to be stronger than the opposition.

“That’s one of the lessons that we’re going to learn – we’re going to come out of the blocks much stronger as a unit and a club.

“It all comes together, when you’re stronger and in better condition you’ll be stronger mentally.”