Darryl Eales writes for the Mansfield Town matchday programme
Executive chairman Darryl Eales writes in the Mansfield Town programme:
Good evening everyone.
We are back to the League campaign tonight with a tough fixture against in-form Mansfield. I am pleased to welcome John and Carolyn Radford and all fans, players and officials from the Stags.
There is only one place to start tonight - Wembley!
To have reached the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final as a League 2 side is a wonderful achievement and is testimony to the professionalism, skill and resolution of the entire coaching team and our outstanding group of players. I am truly delighted for all of them on earning the opportunity to perform on one of football's greatest stages.
To have beaten Millwall, a high-quality League 1 side, over two legs demonstrates the progress we are making as a club under Michael's astute leadership. I would like to also pay tribute to the fantastic sportsmanship exhibited by the players and staff of Millwall, especially their manger, Neil Harris. They were truly magnanimous in defeat and we wish them well in their quest for a return to the Championship.
The night itself was unbearably tense but, on the pitch, I thought the team were magnificent, were the better team on the night and deservedly progressed. As a fan, I just wish we had taken one of our four or five very good chances which would have made the last 20 minutes a little more comfortable!
The atmosphere was brilliant over the whole 90 minutes, but the response to Millwall scoring was breathtaking and I am convinced played a part in ensuring there was no panic, just a determination and collective will to get the job done. Well done to all fans at the end of the game - resisting the urge to run onto the pitch - which allowed the players to celebrate with and thank all fans. The roar at the end of the game exemplified the togetherness and spirit which has been and will remain a vital ingredient of our success.
The only disappointment on the evening was the behaviour of a minority of fans and the reports of trouble outside the ground. I will comment further when the detailed post-match review has been completed but I want to just make a couple of observations:
* whoever the opposition, let's make the experience inside the ground as positive as possible. Please be respectful to all fans and our stewards. This is the only way we will encourage more people to come to games on a more regular basis. We aspire to be family friendly club - please play your part in supporting this approach and welcoming all Oxford fans, old and new.
* for me, notwithstanding the tribalism and passion which are enduring elements of the game and have contributed to my enjoyment for over 50 years, there is no place for hooliganism on any level. It negatively impacts on how we are trying to build the club; it discourages new supporters and may even turn loyal supporters away; it impacts on the general reputation of the club which is very positive given recent coverage; and it costs us financially.
To finish this theme positively, I would like to thank our safety team and stewards. The planning is highly professional for every game, to balance the needs of safety as well as making attendance an enjoyable experience. On the vast majority of occasions, and none more so than last Tuesday, they do a superb job in tough and trying circumstances.
Tickets are on now on sale for Wembley. We have tried our hardest to make booking simple and encourage as many as possible to bring family and friends. We have 40,000 tickets - our challenge is to sell as many of these as we can and make it a real Oxfordshire day out. It is a rare opportunity to showcase the club and encourage new fans to join us and support the team on a regular basis. Let's make it a day to remember!
Talking of ticketing, and communications more generally, I would like to say a huge thank you to Christine, Sue and Alison in the ticket office. The last six weeks or so has put them under extreme pressure and their patience is legendary. Most of all, their commitment to serving the club and helping fans is inspiring and, personally, this kind of selfless attitude and desire to help is a foundation stone of building sustainable success.
Alongside ticketing, both Chris Williams and Sarah Gooding play a pivotal role in our fan engagement and general communications, both on football matters but also, and equally importantly, our community activities. Both elements are central to building a club that is truly relevant and makes a difference.
We now have 12 vital league games before Wembley - starting tonight! Michael and the team remain totally focused - the league is our priority!
Saturday's postponement was frustrating but absolutely the right decision. We now have a demanding four weeks where we play every Tuesday and Saturday. Nothing will be won or lost during this period, but if we can maintain performance levels, there is no reason why we shouldn't remain optimistic for a strong finish to the season.
The squad is in great spirit and are focused on the task in hand. I am delighted Chris Maguire is back with us and that we have brought in Zeli Ismail. I am sure both will play their full part, alongside Jordan Bowery and Jonjoe Kenny, both of whom had excellent debuts, as we navigate February and March.
I am also delighted that Canice Carroll signed his first professional contract. Canice is another outstanding prospect coming through the youth set up as well as a positive character around the training ground. He is currently away with the Republic of Ireland under-17 squad and let's hope it is not too long before he is challenging for the first team.
Finally, we were all saddened to hear of the death of David Sloan, a hero to many Oxford fans in the '70s, and the first player to receive an international cap while playing for Oxford. Our thoughts and best wishes are with his family.