THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Oxford United v Exeter City, 3pm

icon league2b8 September ~ Oxford United fans don't have particularly fond memories of today's opponents, Exeter City. Fixtures between the two towards the top of non-League were regular occurrences until Exeter won promotion in 2008. Oxford have won only one of the last five fixtures against City but even that can not be recalled fondly. A 1-0 victory in the away leg of the Conference play-offs semi-final gave Jim Smith's team a great chance to reach Wembley but the game will be remembered for a glaring Chris Zebroski miss. It became more painful when Oxford squandered a 2-0 aggregate lead in the second leg and were defeated on penalties.

There is reason for greater optimism this weekend than was present in those non-League days: we're not actually rubbish anymore. Following a promotion, a season of adjustment and a promotion push spectacularly derailed through our own means, Oxford United have started this season very well.

The campaign began with a penalty shootout victory over Bournemouth in the League Cup followed by back-to-back 2-0 wins. The season was 374 minutes old before we conceded a goal in the 2-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle. Although we conceded six times in trips to Leeds and York last week, our early season promise has been built on a solid back four.

Ahead of them, the midfield three of Adam Chapman, Jake Forster-Caskey and Lee Cox – who we hope will be fit for today – have provided balance and creativity. Sean Rigg and Alfie Potter give defences problems in the front three.

Deane Smalley has returned for this campaign unrecognisable from the player who was loaned out to Bradford City in the second half of last season. With James Constable and Tom Craddock struggling to win their starting positions back, competition is fierce in attack.

After the morale boost of three wins in the first four games, the play-offs are being targeted by ownership and support alike. With the midweek Johnstone's Paint Trophy derby win against Swindon, the Exeter fixture has been somewhat lost in the mayhem.

A victory to continue our early league momentum is equally important in the long-term. It has been a long time since Oxford United fans left a game against Exeter with smiles on their faces. Let's hope this is the day that we have the opportunity. George Dugdale

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