AFTER Oxford United’s derby defeat, something had to change – and fast.

The manner of the loss to Swindon Town raised genuine fears a slow start would turn into something more, but Karl Robinson took heart from his first full season in charge.

At the same stage in 2018/19, the U’s were second-bottom of Sky Bet League One and went on to finish 12th.

Read part one of Oxford United's season review

Robinson said: “We weren’t panicking back then and we feel we’ve got the players now to not panic again.”


The U’s boss made a big call ahead of the visit of Ipswich Town on December 1, bringing in Jack Stevens for the experienced but out-of-form Simon Eastwood.

United’s young goalkeeper had not played a league game since April 2019, but helped his side keep their second clean sheet of the season.

It was a platform to build on for the visit of leaders Hull City, watched by 1,000 fans returning to the Kassam Stadium for the first time in nine months.

Oxford United celebrate James Henrys goal against Hull City in front of their returning fans Picture: David Fleming

Oxford United celebrate James Henry's goal against Hull City in front of their returning fans Picture: David Fleming

They were treated to an entertaining 1-1 draw, before the U’s beat Forest Green Rovers on penalties in the Papa John’s Trophy second round following the same scoreline.

The latter game saw 16-year-old Gatlin O’Donkor make history, scoring in the shoot-out on the day he became the club’s youngest player.

Gatlin ODonkor scores from the penalty spot on the night he made history Picture: David Fleming

Gatlin O'Donkor scores from the penalty spot on the night he made history Picture: David Fleming

United were becoming harder to beat and they battled to a stalemate at Blackpool, ahead of a kinder run of fixtures over Christmas.

A home game against fellow strugglers Northampton Town was a great opportunity and the U’s seized their chance, scoring four goals after the break in a morale-boosting win.

United suffered a fourth Covid postponement when their visit to Bristol Rovers was called off, while Joel Cooper returned to former club Linfield on loan due to personal issues.

The 11-day break between games did not stunt United’s momentum and they beat AFC Wimbledon 2-0 on Boxing Day to record their first back-to-back wins of the campaign.

That game took place behind closed doors after Covid restrictions tightened again, but the U’s did play in front of supporters one more time at Plymouth Argyle.

Sam Long tucks home Oxford Uniteds second at Plymouth Argyle Picture: Darrell Fisher

Sam Long tucks home Oxford United's second at Plymouth Argyle Picture: Darrell Fisher

They fought back from 1-0 down to win 3-2, with Sam Long scoring a brilliant solo goal.

It was a sign of things to come, from both team and player.


United began 2021 on a three-match winning run and it only got better at basement boys Burton Albion.

Long claimed three assists and Josh Ruffels scored twice in a 5-1 win at the Pirelli Stadium – the ‘Oxford Cafu and Roberto Carlos’ nicknames were born.

Cameron Brannagan’s return from his eye issue completed a perfect day, but it was followed by a frustrating three weeks off the pitch.

Games against Doncaster Rovers and Northampton Town were postponed, while the visit of Shrewsbury Town had already been rescheduled due to their opponents’ Emirates FA Cup run.

It meant United’s only match between January 2 and 23 was the Papa John’s Trophy third round against Cambridge United, settled by an excellent Rob Hall free-kick, on the day Sean Clare was loaned to Burton after a failed experiment at right back.

Seven postponements and counting meant the U’s had a packed schedule, with games every Saturday and Tuesday from January 23 until the end of March.

They returned with a 2-0 home win over Bristol Rovers, where Matty Taylor scored twice against his former club and Marcus McGuane suffered a thigh injury that would ultimately end his season.

A bonkers 4-3 triumph at Rochdale the following Tuesday – settled by Mide Shodipo’s 30-yard lob in stoppage-time – kicked off a manic seven days.

Mide Shodipos last-minute lob secures victory at Rochdale Picture: Simon Hall

Mide Shodipo's last-minute lob secures victory at Rochdale Picture: Simon Hall

United’s transfer window sparked into life on the Friday, with young centre back Luke McNally becoming their first arrival, Jordan Obita making a surprise move to Wycombe Wanderers and – more predictably – Robinson declaring he wanted to sign Will Grigg.

Even more shocking was a first win over Fleetwood Town at the 13th attempt, which set a club-record seventh straight victory.


Deadline day dawned with United flying and they took that momentum into their transfer business.

Joe Grayson arrived from Blackburn Rovers, but the loan signings of Elliot Lee and Brandon Barker grabbed the headlines as Robinson prepared for a play-off push.

A good week got better as the U’s claimed a club-record ninth straight triumph, beating AFC Wimbledon 3-1 to reach the Trophy semi-finals.

Barker and Lee went straight into the starting line-up as United visited Doncaster in a clash of League One’s in-form sides, but their winning run ended with a 3-2 defeat.

The loanees both scored as the U’s beat Bristol Rovers in their rearranged game, before the elements did their best to disrupt the home fixture against Wigan Athletic.

The match had already been postponed 24 hours due to a frozen pitch and a fire in the South Stand at half-time forced the stadium – by now being used as a Covid vaccination hub – to be evacuated.

A fire engine at the Kassam Stadium during the Wigan Athletic game Picture: David Fleming

A fire engine at the Kassam Stadium during the Wigan Athletic game Picture: David Fleming

Proceedings were delayed by 45 minutes and United went a goal down when play restarted, but Sam Winnall and Elliott Moore struck late to turn the tables.

Two months after being in the relegation zone, the U’s were seventh and one point shy of the play-offs.

They began to stutter, though, and a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Tranmere Rovers in the Trophy semi-finals was followed by a dull 0-0 draw at Ipswich Town.

Suddenly United were struggling to score and they lost 1-0 to Portsmouth, on a night Ruffels played his 300th game for the club.

A last-ditch Lee equaliser secured a draw at MK Dons, but the U’s had lost their momentum as they headed into March.