SUNDERLAND’S first visit to Oxford United for two decades was always going to be a significant occasion – but the club have worked hard to make it even bigger.

Last month the U’s revealed a target of reaching a crowd in excess of 10,000.

It is a milestone they have hit just five times for league games since 2010 and there has been an obvious reason for all of them – Swindon Town, Boxing Day or to clinch promotion.

Tickets are not on sale tomorrow, but United today reached their goal.

For commercial director Matt Everett, the key to raising gates is clear.

He said: “My personal opinion has always been if we want to attract fans back, the spectacles they want to see are these fixtures with big away support, a good atmosphere and a decent game of football against big clubs.

“It’s nice to convert people into die-hard fans who come every game, but actually we need to become a viable and enjoyable option for people who maybe support other clubs, support Premier League teams who live in the county to come along once or twice a year.

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“These are the type of games they will come along and enjoy.

“If we can do that then overall we’ll increase our crowds, which can only be good for us.”

Ticket sales are crucial to United, not only when it comes to cashflow issues which have hampered them this season, but also given their ability to generate matchday revenue is limited as tenants at the Kassam Stadium.

Their average attendance is six per cent down from last season, although tomorrow’s turnout will help narrow the gap.

That means while some supporters may scoff at the thought of occasionally sitting next to a fan of a Premier League club, United literally cannot afford to be picky.

Everett said: “I’m a fan myself and completely understand that mentality.

“We’re Oxford fans and the thought of having a second team is quite alien to us.

“But the reality is the vast majority of football fans in Oxford don’t come and watch Oxford United.

“Giving them that live football experience and a local team to get behind, is something that will benefit budgets, attendances, atmosphere and everything that goes along with it.

“I think it’s worth doing.”

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With that in mind, United have started a partnership with Cala Homes which will see a voucher for four tickets included in the welcome pack for homebuyers.

Everett said: “We’re the only professional club to get behind in Oxfordshire.

“If people are moving to the county – and there’s 100,000 new homes going up in the next decade – we need to make sure we attract some of them.”