OXFORD United had no other option than to sell an unsettled Callum O’Dowda to Bristol City, according to head coach Michael Appleton.

The Robins have paid a fee believed to be worth up to £1.6m with add-ons, plus agreed to a significant sell-on clause, to bring the 21-year-old to Ashton Gate.

United have repeatedly said the winger, who has been absent from their pre-season tour to Spain this week after calling in sick on Saturday, was not for sale.

But Appleton admitted it had become clear O’Dowda did not want to wait to play at a higher level.

The circumstances surrounding the move this week meant it was a sad end to his 13 years at the club.

While no formal transfer request was handed in, the U’s boss failed to see the difference.

Appleton said: “To be honest, with the way this week has panned out, I think it felt to me like he had done that anyway, whether he had physically done it or not.

“When you’ve got a player who doesn’t want to play for the club and made it clear what his ambitions are for this season, it was one where you were backed into a corner, I suppose.”

He added: “In my opinion I thought the club had no other option.

“If you have a player who has an ambition to play in the Championship while we are a League One club, when a club comes in with an offer that we see as viable, so be it.”

O’Dowda is the best prospect to come out of United’s academy for well over a decade, making 106 appearances for his hometown club, scoring 14 goals.

His last touch in a United shirt was the stoppage-time strike against Wycombe Wanderers in May, which sealed automatic promotion.

Since then the attacker, who was strongly linked with a move to Derby County in January, made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland.

It is the second high-profile exit for United in a week, following Kemar Roofe’s £3m move to Leeds United.

Appleton acknowledged the timing was unhelpful with the season kicking off in three weeks’ time, but the club are in talks with targets over replacements.

He said: “There’s no two ways round it – it’s not ideal.

“I think if this had happened at the start of the summer it would have still been disappointing, but you would have a lot of time to prepare and deal with that.

“But like all clubs, especially one as successful as we were last year, you’ve got to move on quickly.

“There will be players out there who will become available, that might be later in the window, or as quickly as the next 24 hours.”