FINDING precisely the right thing to say moments before a big game is an art – and Karl Robinson will be careful to read the room ahead of the derby tomorrow.

The Oxford United head coach has experienced intense rivalries when in charge of Milton Keynes Dons and Charlton Athletic, plus as a coach at Blackburn Rovers.

Getting the tone right in the changing room can be tricky.

If players are already pumped up, a bombastic speech could tip them over the edge and lose control when the game starts.

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On the flip-side, looking to take the pressure off might hand the advantage to the opposition.

Robinson admits it is all about finding that balance behind fire and ice.

“That’s a key message in big games, it’s finding a moment within yourself where everything comes together and you’re playing on the edge, but completely calm,” he said.

“It’s a great trait as a professional footballer where you know you can go as far as it takes you and know you have enough room left to control yourself.

“I’m critical of myself sometimes of over-stepping that mark.

“When you lose control, your players lose control.

“But equally, how close can you get to that line with that passion and desire?”

It is an approach Robinson’s predecessors Chris Wilder and Michael Appleton mastered in their derby encounters.

United were intense, but invariably it was Swindon losing their cool – on the pitch and the touchline.

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Knowing whether his side will need more fire or more ice is a decision which will be made in the seconds before Robinson starts speaking.

He said: “There are times you come in wanting to really gee them up, but then you see something in certain people where you think ‘hang on, he’s on the edge here’ and maybe it’s a calmness you need.

“At other times, you’ve gone in thinking they’re fully motivated and then you don’t think they are, so you’ve had to go after somebody and you’ve had to chuck out a speech that’s emotional, raw and full of passion.

“It’s about understanding the moment.

“At the start of my career I would have probably stayed the same, been emotional and to the point.

“Now you have to detach yourself from that and do what the group need at that particular time, not because the manager thinks it’s right.”

Part of Robinson’s appeal to supporters is he has a knack for understanding what they are feeling.

He was planning to speak to several fans this week to get a full appreciation of what this fixture truly means to them.

Video messages will be played to the squad today and tomorrow to help fill in any blanks.

He said: “It’s a big game for other people.

“We don’t get any more points if we beat Swindon and the Swindon manager will say the same.

“When it comes to bragging rights, it’s two teams and two managers who don’t get involved in that, it’s for the fans.

“We have a game to play.”