THE Carabao Cup provided several big highlights for Oxford United last season, but things are very different this time around.

AFC Wimbledon visit the Kassam Stadium tomorrow in the first round.

It marks the start of the U’s competitive matches in the 2020/21 campaign, but boss Karl Robinson intends to treat it like a pre-season friendly.

While there is no prize money until sides reach the very latter stages, United’s run to the quarter-finals last term featured three packed houses at the Kassam.

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The financial boost was accompanied by a raised profile once they took on Manchester City live on television in the last eight.

But with the opening four rounds being crammed in this month while stadiums are empty, most of the attractions of a cup run are removed.

“In this competition there’s no financial gain in relation to prize money that can support the club,” Robinson said.

“Winning in round one generally could get you a decent Premier League club at home and with the windfall of TV rights and a full stadium gave us an opportunity to do things with the club.

“It’s not the case this year so it’s a bit different.

“There’s no point in us getting a decent game at Anfield or Old Trafford if our fans can’t go.

“We’re seeing it as our last pre-season game and that’s exactly how we’re taking the competition.

“We’re not making any apologies for that.

“You might get a TV game, but it doesn’t have the same impact on the club as it would have done in years gone by.”

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That does not mean United plan to toss the game away.

The lack of crowds does not detract from the importance of the League One campaign, which starts next weekend.

And as anyone who has witnessed the intensity of table tennis matches at the training ground will know, professionals want to win whatever the circumstances.

Robinson said: “All the games we’ve played in pre-season have been quite intense.

“QPR was a full-throttle game and that was for absolutely nothing.

“I think in professional sport once the whistle goes they’re tuned in to be competitive.”

Friendly results can be misleading, but United will go into the clash with AFC Wimbledon in good spirits after pre-season.

While the loss of Rob Dickie to QPR this week is a blow, it is one they had been expecting for almost a year.

And that foresight in the recruitment department has been shown in the form of Rob Atkinson, who has stepped into the void and looks set to be given his chance to build a partnership with Elliott Moore.

The centre back was signed in January with a view to being the next cab off the rank.

Robinson said: “During the season we knew there was a high probability Rob Dickie was moving in the summer, so we signed Rob Atkinson in January.

“It’s having that 3D approach. So many different things can happen and you have to make sure you’re not narrow-minded.”