“Mous knows he won’t figure that much next year.”

You did not have to look too hard to read between the lines when Karl Robinson laid his cards on the table 12 months ago.

Despite triggering an extension in his contract, John Mousinho’s days at Oxford United seemed numbered if he wanted to play regularly.

The centre back had a decision to make, but he opted to stay and fight.

It looked a bold move, with United paying a significant fee to bring in Elliott Moore, apparently to play alongside Rob Dickie.

While Mousinho had been a key part in steadying the U’s ship during the 2018/19 season by moving into midfield, many felt as a central defender he would only be a back-up and increasingly move into coaching.

But the skipper dug deep and found another gear, meaning that despite Moore impressing this season he has started half the league games racked up by Mousinho.

The 34-year-old said: “This time last season there was a possibility of becoming a first-team coach and maybe keeping the playing side open if and when I was needed.

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“I decided not to do that and to the manager’s credit he said you’ll come in for pre-season and everything will be judged on merit.

“Come the first game of the season I was playing and managed to play in the majority of the games.

“I’ve really enjoyed myself and feel that I was probably in the best form of my career.”

It was quite a turnaround, having attracted plenty of criticism from early in his U’s career for taking too many risks as a centre back.

But Mousinho’s change of fortunes mirrors the club’s move from relegation strugglers to promotion contenders, earning him a new contract.

“It was a tough slog in the first couple of years battling against relegation, coming in with high expectations and not really fulfilling the potential – myself and the team,” he said.

“To be in the position I’m in now to play another year I probably wouldn’t have seen that happening a year ago, I’m absolutely delighted to be able to make that happen.”

One thing which has never been in doubt during his time at United is Mousinho’s role as a leader.

Always the man sent out for media duties after a damaging defeat, the veteran is without fail calm, clear and measured.

Those qualities will be in demand over the next few days as United look to negotiate their Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final against Portsmouth.

It is unclear whether Mousinho will start or if Rob Dickie will continue to wear the armband.

But the club captain will be a key figure regardless of whether his team talk comes in the seconds before kick-off or much earlier.

What he says is still to be decided.

“It changes from game to game with how I read the lads’ behaviour in the week,” he said.

“I’ll formulate a plan closer to Friday with whether I’m playing or not and make sure I can influence it as the club captain.

“If I’ve got something to say make sure it’s meaningful and the lads take something from it.

“It might just be a word in training this week.

“Sometimes you know the lads are completely focused and you don’t need to say anything and that’s a great place to be.”

Mousinho will be able to draw on his varied play-off experience.

Having scored the winner for Stevenage in the 2011 League Two final, they were then edged out 1-0 on aggregate in the League One semi-final by Sheffield United a year later.

Mousinho said: “That was a heart-breaker, so I have mixed emotions, along with one of the best memories of my career.”

That 2011 highlight could yet be surpassed in the next fortnight, something unimaginable 12 months ago, for club or captain.