THE pandemic may have removed some of the Emirates FA Cup’s attraction this season, but for Oxford United boss Karl Robinson it remains important.

As things stand, the prospect of repeating the scenes of last season, when the U’s played in front of a sold-out St James’ Park for a fourth round tie, is off the table.

Even if fans are permitted back in the new year when the Premier League sides enter the competition, the financial benefits will be mitigated by restrictions on social distancing.

But last term’s run, which ended in extra-time heartache against the Magpies in a replay, was about so much more than money.

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Along with the Carabao Cup adventure, it gave a host of fringe players a chance to stay sharp, so when chances came in the league they were ready to hit the ground running.

Robinson will shuffle the pack against Peterborough United tomorrow knowing there is little he needs to say – it is over to those players who have been asking for an opportunity.

He said: “Would we like another run? Yes.

“Is it a necessity? No, but we’re desperate to win, as you’d imagine. I love the FA Cup.

“The big thing for me is we have players who knock on my door on a consistent basis saying they should be playing.

“This is their chance to prove to me they can hold the shirt down.

“The pressure is more on the players who take that responsibility at the weekend.

“Managers pick the players they think are ready at that time.

“In this instance it’s players who deserve it because they’ve trained hard.

“Other people have been doing OK to keep their shirt, so this is the best chance for them (the fringe players) to really nail down an opportunity to take a shirt.”

Robinson admitted to asking a few of his regulars to dig deep against Rochdale in midweek in the knowledge they could be given a break after a hectic period.

A 3-1 win was just what the squad needed, taking them off the bottom.

There is a slight sense of frustration there are no points on offer this weekend, although a win against a Peterborough side who beat them 2-0 last month would add to the feelgood factor.

It will be a challenge though against the League One leaders.

Robinson said: “It’s the hardest draw, because they’re top, so are the highest-ranked club in the competition at this stage.

“We’ve just got to make sure we approach it in the right way and make sure it’s just as difficult for them as they will make it difficult for us.

“Hopefully we can put some good performances in to keep that momentum going.”