WHERE to start when unpicking Liam Manning’s departure from Oxford United?

The 38-year-old took charge of just 29 U’s games, but made a significant impact at the club.

Last season, when he was appointed in March to replace the sacked Karl Robinson, the brief was simple: keep the club in the third tier.

He did that in a not quite so spectacular fashion, drawing five and winning two of the final 10 games of the campaign.

Effectively, Manning made United a difficult team to beat – something which had been lacking prior to his arrival.

There was though glimpses of what was to come, with the wins at home to Cheltenham Town (4-0) and at Forest Green Rovers (3-0) showing what could happen when a Manning side clicked in the final third.

An inevitable summer overhaul followed, with 11 new players added to the squad.

In goal, James Beadle has allowed Manning to stamp his style of play onto the team. The Brighton & Hove Albion loanee is not just an excellent young shotstopper, but is equally adept with his feet.

Greg Leigh has been a revelation on the left-hand side of the defence, while proving to be a threat at the other end of the pitch, notching five goals and the Sky Bet League One player of the month award for September.

Meanwhile, Fin Stevens on the other side is beginning to come of age in the right wing back slot, and is getting better week by week.

Stan Mills and Kyle Edwards have been electric on the wings, with the U’s seriously missing the latter since he was ruled out with a hamstring injury last month.

In attack, Ruben Rodrigues has shown he possesses the class and skill to be a top player in Sky Bet League One, while Mark Harris enjoyed an early haul of five goals in all competitions at the beginning of the season.

The above players have all expressed working under Manning as a key factor in joining United during the summer.

The style of play has evolved this season, with a possession-based 3-4-2-1 system yielding some brilliant moves and sensational team goals.

It’s also led to results on the pitch, with the U’s sitting second in the table and just three points off top spot upon Manning’s exit.

Ultimately, the former MK Dons boss leaves the club in a much better place than when he arrived. Other players such as Elliott Moore, Marcus McGuane and Billy Bodin have significantly stepped up their game even more under Manning.

Frustration will naturally be the overriding emotion for many U’s fans right now. After all, the club gave him a chance after his time with MK Dons ended on a sour note with the team in the relegation zone.

Whether Manning has made the right call in leaving for a Robins side just four points shy of the Championship play-off places remains to be seen.

He described the move as a ‘terrific opportunity’ and it undoubtedly is.

The main sticking point though is whether he had such an opportunity here at United. A real push for promotion looked on the cards with him at the helm, and now the club’s board must act efficiently to make sure that charge up the football pyramid remains on track.