WHEN Dan Agyei signed for Oxford United last weekend, the lure of regular first-team football over under 23 action was high on his reasons for joining.

It may be for a club at a lower level, but performing in front of bigger crowds in games that truly matter can be a powerful motivation.

And if any target needs convincing, the U’s can point to Cameron Brannagan as a shining example of what can happen if you take the plunge.

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Leaving Liverpool behind in January last year cannot have been an easy decision, but at 21 he had just 22 senior appearances under his belt, the majority of which had come on loan at Fleetwood Town.

Since then, he has racked up 67 games for United, steadily growing in influence to become one of the first names on the teamsheet.

“I knew I made the right decision as soon as I came,” he said.

“I wanted to play football and kick-start my career. Coming here has helped me do that.

“Everyone has been great with me. It was a bit difficult moving down at first because I’ve never really lived away from home.”

But Brannagan quickly found becoming a bigger fish in a smaller pond made all the difference.

“It makes you feel like home. I look forward to coming in,” he said.

“Once you get the flow of being in with the boys and getting to play every week, it’s good.

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“You just feel the vibe and you just want more of it.”

Brannagan is not the only one who appears to have taken a big step forward. Rob Dickie, two months older and also another January 2018 signing, is suddenly an asset.

Wayne Brown, United’s goalkeeping coach, said: “You see it on the pitch or even walking around at the training ground.

“They’ve matured, it’s amazing what a year in professional football does.

“They’ve become men and it’s showing in their performances.”

Brannagan’s progress was symbolised on Tuesday night when he was handed the armband.

And he delivered a captain’s performance, scoring the winner against Peterborough United for the second time in four days.

The 23-year-old also speaks with an authority these days.

“I look at myself as a leader now,” he said. “I think I’ve grown up a lot coming here.

“The team have helped me do that, the likes of Mous (captain John Mousinho).

“I take that responsibility now and I believe in everything I do.

“I want to be leading as much as I can, on and off the pitch.”