ONLY 26 men have played more games for Oxford United than Josh Ruffels, but his entire time at the club hinged on one phone conversation.

Timing is everything and coach Andy Melville’s offer to come and train with the squad could not have been better.

Then 19, Ruffels’s world had seemingly fallen apart after his 11-year stay at Coventry City had been brought to an abrupt end.

“I had been injured for ten or 11 months,” he said.

“Steven Pressley came in as the manager.

“I was trying to find my feet and deep down I knew I wasn’t the player I was before.

“It was predictable what was going to happen and I had a meeting with him where he said ‘that’s it’.

“I remember driving home and it was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever had.

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“I was there for a long time, so you really take it to heart and the news was horrible.”

It is a feeling which will be familiar to many players.

But having been cast out into the wilderness, the young midfielder got a break when Melville rang a few weeks later.

Ruffels said: “It’s very lucky really that call happened, because I didn’t know what was in store for me.

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  • Josh Ruffels during his Oxford United debut, a 3-1 win at Torquay United in August 2013   Picture: David Fleming

“I had one trial in Birmingham, just an astroturf pitch where you’d have a match and scouts were watching.

“I never thought I’d be in that position, but luckily I got the phone call a few weeks later.”

Initially signed to the newly-formed under 23 squad, Ruffels came into a group which had a trio of players who would make more than 800 appearances for the U’s between them.

But seven years on, the midfielder has converted into a left back and is now in the same company on the all-time lists.

He overtook Ryan Clarke in February, while James Constable and Jake Wright will be in his sights once football resumes.

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Throw in a promotion, plus two Wembley finals, and it has been a ride which the teenage Ruffels could not have comprehended.

“I remember the first few training sessions after Chris Wilder offered me a contract,” he said.

“I was thinking ‘I’ll try to build myself back into football and see if I can get into the first team’.

“Seven years later to think I’m catching up with Jake Wright and Beano (Constable), it’s a bit surreal.

“It’s really nice to be in that company, I’ve just got to keep going.

“I’ve had to bide my time and it’s paid off.

“It’s something I’m really proud of, hopefully I can just keep going.”

Given his age, Ruffels has time to really make a dent in the upper echelons of all-time list, form and fitness permitting.

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  • Josh Ruffels gets his suit fitted ahead of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley in 2016    Picture: Damian Halliwell

Valued by a succession of U’s managers for being low maintenance, in turn his growth as a player has been assisted by the club’s gentle upward curve in recent years.

Now third in the Sky Bet League One table, thanks in part to the left back’s winning goal at Shrewsbury Town last month, Karl Robinson’s side are realistic promotion contenders once the season resumes.

And having made his debut for Coventry at Selhurst Park in 2011, there is the potential that a dream of getting back to the second tier could be fulfilled.

He said: “It’s been a steady progression and with the way it’s going it would be great to play with Oxford in the Championship.

“It’s what we said when I first came to the club.

“It’s taken a bit longer than a couple of years, but to be playing in the Championship was the aim.

“My debut was Palace away in the Championship, so to come back and next season be there again would be the dream.”