SAM Long knows Oxford United will be boosted on and off the pitch if they can retain their key players this summer.

The end of the Sky Bet League One season has prompted the inevitable speculation linking U’s stars with moves elsewhere following the club’s eighth-placed finish.

It is a familiar story for United, who lost players to clubs higher up the pyramid after promotion near-misses in the previous two seasons.

READ MORE: Why Oxford United are sending rising stars to non-league club Slough Town

The U’s have coped in the past, but Long acknowledged that keeping the current crop together cannot be a bad thing.

The right back said: “If we can keep our best players then we’ll always have a chance.

“With the people we’ve let go in the last few years, it’s helped us to grow so there’s always a fine line.

“Lads want to better their careers and play in a higher division.

“We’d be having a different conversation about getting players if we were in a higher division.

“There are obviously going to be players that want to play higher, but if we can keep as many players as we can it’s got to be a positive.”

Some summer turnover is guaranteed at United, who have already waved goodbye to Ciaron Brown, Nathan Holland, Herbie Kane and Gavin Whyte following the conclusion of their loan spells.

READ MORE: Oxford United loanees reflect on season as they return to parent clubs

Meanwhile, Karl Robinson has publicly said he expects Mark Sykes, Sam Winnall and Jamie Hanson to leave when their contracts expire at the end of next month.

Sykes is understood to have caught the eye of Sky Bet Championship club Bristol City, who have also been linked with Elliott Moore.

Reports last week claimed several second-tier sides are interested in Cameron Brannagan, although the midfielder has repeatedly said he is committed to United.

READ MORE: Cameron Brannagan outlines commitment to Oxford United

The U’s have challenged for promotion from League One in the last three seasons, despite losing key players before each of those campaigns.

Rob Atkinson and Josh Ruffels departed to Bristol City and Huddersfield Town respectively last summer, but United maintained a play-off challenge until the penultimate game of this term.

Rob Dickie left for Queens Park Rangers days before the start of the 2020/21 season and the U’s recovered from an awful start to finish in the top six.

United even lost Whyte and Curtis Nelson in summer 2019, plus Shandon Baptiste and Tariqe Fosu the following January, but reached the play-off final at Wembley.

Long is United’s longest-serving player and has enjoyed working with the current squad, which he feels is conducive to good results.

The 27-year-old said: “We’re quite a close-knit group.

“We all get on really well, we have a lot of laughs but also work hard.

“There’s a good dynamic within the group to have success.

“We’ve been so good all year, we’ve been more consistent than I can remember.”