JUST after giving the final team talk after the last full training session before the play-offs, Karl Robinson allowed himself a moment to consider how far Oxford United had come.

Talk of ‘the journey’ can feel corny, the sort of thing exaggerated for effect on TV talent shows, but this side have put together quite a story.

If you had told anyone at the end of last July the U’s would finish the campaign in the play-offs, they would have either laughed or cried.

With a week to go until the season opener at Sunderland, Robinson delivered an emotional interview after the final warm-up game, a 1-1 draw at Solihull Moors.

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A lack of signings was shown in a squad supplemented by a host of young players, while Gavin Whyte was about to join Cardiff City – for half the fee Robinson had hoped to get for the winger.

“It looks a little bit dark right now and we’re not shying away from it,” Robinson said at the time.

Looking back now, the head coach insists they “knew what what we were doing”, but it shows how far the group have come.

He said: “I was a bit down that day and we’d just lost Gavin.

“That was hard, I didn’t expect it to drag on for so long and then happen.

“We had one or two niggles and the squad was decimated. I think the signing of Matty Taylor was key to us after the Blackpool game (in August).

“We’ve just been speaking about what an incredible year it’s been.”

The week after Solihull finally brought a flurry of signings, while Taylor’s arrival three weeks later added to the momentum.

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But Whyte’s departure was just the first speed bump in a campaign where those left behind have kept finding another gear.

“It’s important people realise we’ve lost Gavin Whyte, Tariqe Fosu, Shandon Baptiste, Chris Cadden and Nathan Holland – all players that should be available for the play-offs and we’ve still managed to go on cup runs and get where we wanted to,” Robinson said.

“I’m immensely proud of the players here. When you look at what’s gone on this year it’s been unbelievable.

“All we have done all year is focus on ourselves. That’s been the key to it, whoever we’ve lost we’ve replaced very well and seemed to get better.”

And now, for the final challenge – a play-off four months after their previous competitive fixture.

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At least in this sense it is the same for everyone. Kenny Jackett is just as in the dark about how ready his Portsmouth side are to get back into action.

Robinson does though believe the unique circumstances brought by the anti-coronavirus measures will give those on the touchline more influence on games than normal.

He said: “The drinks breaks mean as a manager you’ve got more control over what goes on.

“Not only that, you’ve got five substitutions so there’s more stoppages than ever before.

“If you lose control it gives you a chance to get a message on. I think it will help the team that’s having a difficult time.

“But everything we’re doing is guessing.”