Oxford United’s story has been a twisting and turning roller coaster of highs and lows since their entry to the English football league in the sixties.
Currently top of League Two, they are enjoying an overdue resurgence under manager Michael Appleton and playing the sort of attractive football that is rarely seen in the lower echelons of English football.
During the eighties, The U’s – under Jim Smith – rose from the old English Third Division to Division One with successive promotions and remained in the top flight of English football for three seasons producing plenty of giant-killing performances.
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In 1986, they claimed one of English football’s major prizes by securing the League Cup at Wembley beating QPR 3-0.
However, an eighteen-year slump in fortunes saw United fall through the football league and eventually out altogether in 2006 following relegation from League Two – the only time in football history that a team who had won a major trophy had dropped out of the football league.
Oxford regained their league status, after beating York City 3-1 at Wembley, in a match which saw the highest ever attendance for a conference play-off final at the time - including 33,000 United fans.
Statistics like this lend credibility to Appleton and chairman Daryl Eales' belief that attractive football can bring success back to the club and fill their 12,500 three-sided stadium - maybe one day completing a fourth stand.
Highly-rated Appleton – formerly an assistant to Roberto di Matteo and Roy Hodgson at West Brom - came to the club in July 2014, and many were sceptical about playing attractive passing football in League Two.
Appleton oversaw wholesale changes to the playing squad during his first year with the club to assemble a group that had the professionalism, skill and belief to carry out his ambitious plans.
“When I arrived, I thought there were a lot of poor personalities here. Part of our recruitment drive was to get people who bought into what we’re trying to do.”
Current players including exciting winger Kemar Roofe, Ireland U21 star Callum O’Dowda and former Everton midfielder John Lundstram have been attracting attention from Premier League and Championship clubs as the club have gone unbeaten for 11 matches – winning six out of eight games in November playing the sort of slick, fast-paced passing game usually reserved for the Premier League.
A recent 1-0 win against Forest Green has earned Oxford a lucrative FA Cup 3rd Round Tie against Swansea.
Striker Danny Hylton described the current atmosphere at the club to BBC Radio Oxford: "We're very tight as a squad and nobody's getting over-excited. We know there's a lot of games still to be played."
It remains to be seen whether Appleton can hold this squad together and see Oxford achieve what their famous squad in the 80's did by reaching the top level of English football, but Swansea will be hoping the U’s don’t resume their giant-killing tradition when they come to the Kassam Stadium for January’s third round tie.
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