Oxford United were devalued from the start - but their promotion dreams prevail eternal
(Photo by James Williamson - AMA/ Getty Images)

Oxford United's extraordinary season continues next week as they face the drama of a playoff shootout for a second successive season, despite straddling just one point above the tipping point at Christmas.

Sunday saw the highly-anticipated conclusion of the League One season, where uniformity ceased to exist. As spectators across the country tossed and turned on Saturday night, the big question would grow ominously louder: Who would be in the playoffs come Sunday?

The answer wasn't ever simple.

Fittingly, the encouragement that emanated across England before the weekend spelt out, "Leave everything on the pitch", something that pulsated perpetually befitting for Charlton Athletic, Oxford United and the Cowley Brother's Portsmouth.

As the final day's results filtered through the media, it was Oxford who benefitted most.

And, it was an afternoon that Karl Robinson won't be brushing aside anytime soon. Oxford had done all they needed to secure the final playoff position, but it wasn't in their hands. Instead, the fate of their final destination anchored itself on the shoulders of Accrington Stanley.

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Even by Robinson's high standards, compelling optimism and striking pollyannaism, the great achievement of his squad has exceeded not only the board's expectation but also their fanbase. 

Putting aside for a minute the riches of the entire season, the U's cradled a victory that exhibited a microcosm of their glaring fortunes of the 2020/21 campaign when they subdued Burton Albion

After nine minutes, Olamide Shodipo had already found the net against Burton, and although they hung in there, it wasn't long before the news of an Accrington Stanley goal travelled to the Kassam Stadium, much to the dismay of the visitor's impressive away record, which saw them undefeated on the road since Boxing Day.

Further goals from Matty Taylor, Elliott Lee and Sam Winnall meant that the U's steamrolled to victory. The latter of which scoring a late contender for goal of the season.

Robinson's team breathed an air of confidence, flowing across the pitch with a noticeable verve, doing everything that was humanly possible to ensure their side of the mission was completed.

The long and winding road that Oxford have endured in their path has led them to a chance to relocate into the promised land again. There have been dead-ends, roadworks and a few bad turns during the years, but now is the time for them to put their remorse in the past.

The rose-tinted trajectory that led them to steal a playoff place at the death started long before the first blow of the whistle on Sunday, though. 

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At the dawn of the new season, United had shown inescapable signs of suffering from the symptoms of a playoff final hangover. As it were, the U's suffered defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in last season's League One play-off final.

The loss, alongside departures of key members of the Grenoble Road dressing room, meant that it was almost inevitable that Robinson would be dealt a blow upon the inaugural months of the new season.

Already notoriously slow starters, United would go on to lose their first two games of the season, conceding four without having the answers to muster a reply.

Albeit, they then went on to beat Accrington 4-1, but another two games would go by with the U's failing to wrestle themselves more than one goal.

To a great degree, the turbulent start was poisoned by the void that the lack of fans added to the spiralling atmosphere around Oxford. Of course, last season was hardly much different, but there was still that light that gleamed at the end of the tunnel.

This season, things felt a little different.

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The U's were unable to scrape a back to back win in the entirety of the first half of the season, that unfolded before Christmas, a record that came with it, the burden of a derby day loss.

For a long time, there was an overwhelming self-satisfaction among the United faithful, who boasted an unbeaten record over their fiercest rivals from down the road, which had been preserved since 2001. 

It was an undefeated streak that rode the waves of the Pep Clotet era, indisputably the most hated manager in United's recent living memory. Anguish had almost reached its boiling point after Robinson had faltered to keep the remnants of Michael Appleton's derby legacy intact.

Tom Broadbent and Tyler Smith had seemingly put the nail in the coffin in November's final League one fixture, the loathed anti-Robinson protestors, who merely voiced their opinion on social media, started to flurry out of the woodwork, and Swindon Town finally had bragging rights once more. 

Certainly, no one could surely have expected United to recover so quickly from the hurt of the previous season, but still, there was a feeling that the best had been and gone, Robinson had gotten to the summit of his achievements with what he had within his disposal.

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However, this United team highlighted yet again, their value to spring a surprise. 

Resilience has been woven into the fabric of this football club; Robinson has instilled a never say die attitude to his set of players and staff, refusing to give up hope right until the bitter end. 

Since the turn of the year, United have domineered League One, and despite the profusion of optimism that seeped through the grin of the U's head coach throughout the arduous journey, even he couldn't have predicted the outcome of the campaign.

The U's turned their fortunes on their head after Christmas.

Out of the blue, Robinson had ostensibly found the key to become a force to be reckoned with in England's third division. United's attack was in the ascendancy, and all of a sudden, there were murmurs of a repeat of last season's last-ditch road to glory. 

Like any great team, their success started from the back. No truer was this statement than with Oxford United, whose second-half flight path never ceased to drop below the necessary standards to reach the playoffs.

For United, the defence became the bedrock to their promotion bid. 

While Josh Ruffels and Sam Long, two local heroes for the club, contributed to 21 goals in all competitions from the defensive flanks, Elliott Moore has become a staple in Robinson's plans.

The central defender has become an ever loud commander at the heart of the defence, being the only outfield player to play every minute in League One. 

Defence is where everything successful team starts, but that should not discount the unshakeable midfield configuration that Oxford had discovered upon the return of cardinal assets.

Cameron Brannagan, who suffered in the early stages of the season from a rare eye injury, found rejuvenation in the form of a role in the base of midfield. 

Meanwhile, James Henry has been one of United's best creative outputs, showing just how much his downturn in form at the start of the season was a key reason that the U's experienced a thorn in their side.

That's not to forget the goals that Matty Taylor, Brandon Barker and Elliott Lee have scored for United.

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Robinson and his backroom staff have also finally established chemistry between the players, something that was evident across the winning streak, while the U's were forced to delve deep into reserves to find a winner in certain games. 

Dramatic wins such as that of victories at Plymouth Argyle and Rochdale were turning points in the season that never stopped ebbing and flowing.

Furthermore, winning in the dying embers against the likes of Shrewsbury Town, Gillingham and Doncaster Rovers also underpinned just how far this United team had come since the turn of the year.

A nine-game winning streak across all competitions would finally come to an end in February after they surpassed the club's previous longest winning streak set by the late Jim Smith in the 1982/83 season.

And although they suffered a below-par Easter weekend, and other poor game weeks throughout the rest of the season that followed February, they seemed to pull through when it was needed most.

United never failed to stop believing in themselves, even when others discounted them.

They will face Blackpool in the semi-final of the League One playoffs on Tuesday night. 

Their promotion dreams are eternal.