THE surreal circumstances at Wembley on Monday night meant nothing felt real – until you looked into the eyes of Oxford United’s players.

Nothing beats being promoted via the play-offs, but equally they make the pain of falling agonisingly short even more powerful.

After addressing his players on the pitch after the game, boss Karl Robinson walked over to watch Wycombe Wanderers lift the trophy.

Most of his players could not bring themselves to look.

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For everyone involved, this near-miss to get into the Championship will take some getting over – chances as good as this one are rare.

Emotions are raw and in the immediate aftermath it is hard not to be gloomy about what happens next.

The brutal truth is when you overachieve and still do not go up it is very difficult to keep the team together.

Perspective is difficult this close to ground zero, but when the dust settles the 2019/20 season should be seen as much more than just the final 90 minutes.

Sport, particularly at this level, is about moments – and this side have delivered more than anyone dared dream 12 months ago.

Since then, in no particular order, the U’s have:

  • Thrashed a Premier League team.
  • Taken another to the brink of penalties in a replay.
  • Reached a major domestic cup quarter-final for the first time since the 1980s.
  • Set a new record for biggest away win in the Football League.
  • Claimed their highest league finish of the 21st century.
  • And, most remarkably of all, beat Southend United twice.

They did it all with a style which left a string of opposition managers, including Pep Guardiola, waxing lyrical about Karl Robinson’s side.

It also came while dealing with the triple blow of selling star men along the way.

But the group, an immensely likeable bunch of characters with a decent Oxfordshire contingent, found a way to deal with it and keep on trucking.

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February alone – the replay with Newcastle, the mauling by Peterborough, the 11 goals in four straight wins – saw more highs and lows than many clubs manage in a season.

Off the pitch, the club and supporters produced a fitting tribute to Jim Smith, while lockdown prompted a wide-ranging community effort.

After the previous campaign, success would have qualified as staying clear of the high court and the bottom four.

Instead, we were treated to one hell of a ride.

It did not have the fairytale ending we all craved, but it should not detract from how United made it that far.

That is how the season deserves to be remembered.