THERE were not many positives to come out of July’s play-off final for Oxford United, but staying in League One did bring with it one benefit.

While promotion would have meant an overdue reunion with Reading, there is only one true rival.

And for supporters at this end of the A420, games with Swindon Town have been a delight since December 8, 2002.

The start of seven wins, which have memorably come in all shapes and sizes.

There have been backs-against-the-wall upsets, late winners and slick displays, all against the backdrop of packed, feverish stands.

For many it has been all too much, but thankfully the majority of implosions have come from the Robins camp.

Also read: How to win the derby - from Oxford United players who have done it

It was not always like this – the first 49 derby matches brought just eight United victories.

But it all started to change almost 18 years ago, when an FA Cup draw put the bitter rivals on a collision course.

To this day, Steve Basham still has no idea if he got a touch on Jefferson Louis’ flick, but the 65th minute effort was enough to pull off an upset.

Their reward was a third round trip to Highbury, celebrated cheekily on live television by Louis, who was credited with the goal.

Oxford Mail:

  • Steve Basham (right) is congratulated, before the goal was credited to Jefferson Louis

But the big prize was beating Swindon.

Basham said: “I knew more than most what it meant because I lived in Oxford.

“If you were speaking to a fan, you wouldn’t get through a conversation without Swindon getting mentioned.

“If it’s a league game it’s the biggest of the season but you have a long time to think about it.

“As this was in the FA Cup all of a sudden overnight it’s all everyone was talking about.

Also read: Oxford United's local core are embracing the derby record

“It’s quite hard to believe what’s happened since, but also shows how far the club have come.”

After that high, it was almost nine years until the clubs met again, with the U’s enduring their spell in the non-league wilderness.

For the first time that season – but not the last – Paolo Di Canio did all the talking in the build-up, which suited Chris Wilder just fine.

James Constable, the source of much attention before the game, scored twice to claim a first win at the County Ground since 1973.

Oxford Mail:

  • Chris Wilder acknowledges the away fans in 2011

“They hadn’t played each other for a long time, so the build-up was really good,” Andy Whing said.

“You’re on the coach and you could see the fans, all the police horses and you could tell it was going to be a proper game.”

For Constable, that day in August 2011 comes close to the play-off final win a year earlier.

He said: “It’s almost up there with the Wembley game.

“Whenever we play them you are reminded of the results that had gone before and it’s always in the back of your mind.

“What I would give to be involved tomorrow.”

United were at home for the reverse fixture, but were up against it.

Jake Wright and Peter Leven were out injured, against a side who had won their last ten league games.

Also read: Oxford United boss on search for blend of 'fire and ice'

The noon kick-off meant Whing was told to stay in the hotel next to the ground rather than go home to the midlands on the Friday.

He said: “At breakfast, Asa Hall and I were getting some filthy looks, because I think a few Swindon fans were staying there.

“Walking across to the ground you could see the Priory was packed and there was a police helicopter in the air.

“You thrive on those sorts of games.”

Few would have given United a chance after Constable’s early red card, but quick goals from Asa Hall and Oli Johnson gave the ten men something to defend – which they did manfully to secure the sweetest of 2-0 wins.

While Constable was relieved his dismissal had not been costly, he helped make amends six months later.

In front of a crowd totally out of place for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy first round, the striker set up Alfie Potter to net an 88th-minute winner.

Oxford Mail:

  • Jake Wright celebrates Alfie Potter's late strike

It was three years before the sides met again, meaning a whole new team would learn about the fixture.

Again it was in the Trophy and once more the League Two hosts came out on top against their third tier visitors.

This time they bossed the game, Kemar Roofe’s double earning a 2-0 victory against ten men.

Chey Dunkley watched on, wide-eyed from the bench.

He said: “It was mad – and that was for a JPT game.

Oxford Mail:

  • A huge banner in the East Stand greeted the two sides as they walked out

“Normally in the early rounds no-one turned up, but for this game it was clearly so important for both sets of fans.”

Promotion followed to ensure when the teams met a year later it was for a league game.

Also read: Swindon Town loanee eyes derby win to turn form around

It was Chris Maguire’s turn to score a double, with the forward embracing his role as wind-up merchant extraordinaire against a Robins side who finished with nine men.

Oxford Mail:

  • Chris Maguire celebrates his first goal in front of the away fans

“I’ve still got photos of that game,” Joe Skarz said.

“I think a lot of it was down to the manager, Michael Appleton.

“We spoke all week about it. He was saying ‘someone is going to get sent off, just make sure it’s not uss.”

With United shrugging off a Checkatrade Trophy draw as not counting, much to Swindon’s irritation, all the talk was of making it seven wins in a row heading into the return match.

Dunkley said: “Some of the lads had been putting up six fingers and it got to their camp.

“It wasn’t just between the fans anymore, it was between the players as well.

“It was going off a little bit in the tunnel. Nobody got hurt, but there was a bit of pushing and shoving.”

United trailed, before staging a second-half fightback. Liam Sercombe poached an equaliser, before Rob Hall went down in derby folklore for his spectacular winner.

“That’s one of my favourite goals ever,” Ledson said.

“To this day it’s one of the best games I’ve been involved in.”