2023/24 Season Review Part 9: April

United entered the last month of the regular season on fire, winning the first three games scoring 13 goals without reply, and ultimately ending in the play-offs.

Following an arguably disappointing March, there was seemingly no stopping United as they began April with a bang. First up, Fleetwood Town came to Oxford with no idea of what was in store for them. A rampant U's side were 3-0 up before half-time and eventually finished 4-0 victors in their biggest win of the season (so far).

Fleetwood, although lying second from bottom in League One, had lost just two of their last nine games and they almost opened the scoring on 11 minutes through Tom Lonergan. Three minutes later and they were a goal behind as a typical Oxford counter-attack culminated with Owen Dale finding Cameron Brannagan, whose shot deflected past Jay Lynch. United's pressure was relentless and on the half hour they doubled the lead when Mark Harris slid in to convert an inch-perfect Josh Murphy cross. Two minutes before half-time, Dale scored his first goal for the club as Lynch could only parry a Murphy shot straight to him for a simple finish.


After the break, Murphy continued in his role as tormentor-in-chief, creating chances for himself and others. But it was Harris who scored his second and United's fourth seven minutes from time to earn the U's a perfect Easter Monday.

Oxford followed this up with a trip to Burton Albion, where they again won 4-0. Murphy and Harris had already gone close when Harris, United's leading scorer, broke the deadlock. A Burton corner was cleared upfield and Tolaji Bola misjudged the bounce, allowing Harris to race through on goal, go around former U's stopper Max Crocombe and tap the ball home. 

United continued the momentum in the second half, creating chance after chance, but it wasn't until the 57th minute that they made the pressure pay. Murphy charged away down the left wing and his centre gave Harris probably his easiest goal of the season in yet another classic counter-attacking move. It was 3-0 shortly afterwards as Murphy again had the freedom of the left side of the pitch. This time he finished his own move, side-footing neatly past Crocombe. Substitute James Henry got in on the act seven minutes later with a typically composed finish right in front of the away fans.

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Two big wins against struggling teams, but could the Yellows do it against a promotion rival? The answer was an emphatic 'Yes' as Peterborough United came to town. Despite missing Brannagan and skipper Elliott Moore, Oxford looked up for the game from the off and took the lead in the 18th minute when Murphy nipped in to rob the ball in the area and was brought down by Jadel Katongo. Up stepped Harris to smash the ball past Jed Steer for 1-0. Steer's next action was a decisive one, as his panicked clearance under pressure from Murphy could only find Murphy's head, and he steered the ball into the empty net for 2-0. It was Murphy again who set up the third goal, his low cross met by Ruben Rodrigues, who steered the ball home. 3-0, and it was almost four before half-time when Dale hit the post with the goal at his mercy.


The Posh were shell-shocked and Oxford took full advantage in the second period. Fin Stevens sent over a perfect cross for Rodrigues to head past Steer and make it 4-0. United looked to be cruising to their third-successive 4-0 win, but the team had other ideas. Marcus Browne burst through but had his shot saved; Greg Leigh smashed the ball against the inside of the post. With time almost up, substitute Billy Bodin scored the best of the lot as he controlled a long Leigh clearance, took the ball wide of two defenders and chipped the ball over Steer from 15 yards. A thing of beauty and 5-0.

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Unfortunately, United were unable to follow up that performance against play-off rivals Lincoln, who came to the Kassam Stadium and halted the side's five-game unbeaten run with a Danny Mandriou penalty at the start of the second half. Oxford could then only draw at home to Stevenage, who took the lead through a Sam Long own goal in the first half before Brannagan levelled from the penalty spot after the break.

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This left Oxford outside the play-off places with just one game remaining: a trip to Exeter City. With Lincoln at home to title-winners Portsmouth and Barnsley at home to Northampton, it led to a tense final day. As it happened, no one need worry as Oxford made relatively light work of the Grecians, taking a 2-0 first-half lead through a Harris breakaway goal and a Brannagan penalty. Lincoln were beaten 2-0 by Pompey and Barnsley were held to a 1-1 draw by the Cobblers to leave the U's in fifth place and a play-off semi-final against Peterborough.


We conclude the season review next week with a look at the merry month of May. No spoilers...