RR: Haway then - catch us up on all things Oxford. It’s been twenty years since we were in the same league and you’ve had plenty of ups and downs to talk about, including a stadium move, relegations and promotions!
JR: Overall it’s been a tough time as an Oxford fan. Since we departed what is now the Championship in 1999 we have seen our club completely change both on and off the field. Our demise was swift as financial problems set in. Our best players were all sold for bargain prices, and the new ground was left half built on the outskirts of the city as builders went unpaid.
The club was “rescued” by a Tanzanian business man named Firoz Kassam who bought the club for a quid, paid creditors ten pence in the pound they were owed, finished the new stadium not bothering to build a fourth side and sold our beloved old Manor Ground for a massive profit, which he pocketed.
We fell through the third tier in two short years and then struggled to make an impact back in the basement division as Mr Kassam tightened the purse strings - showing more interest in getting his leisure facilities and hotels built rather than spending money on the team.
We went through more managers than boat races, including a surreal spell where Argentine manager Ramon Diaz brought a mini bus load of awful South American players to the club before realising that being thrashed by Rochdale every week wasn’t all it cracked up to be.
By the time new owners were found in 2006, it was all a bit too late. The team’s fortunes on the pitch had fallen to such a level that we needed to beat Leyton Orient at home on the last day of the season to stay up while they needed the win to confirm promotion. Needless to say we lost and became the first side to have played in the English top flight to be relegated out of the football league.
The conference was novel, at first, but a promising first season where we lost in the play-offs made way for two pretty dreadful campaigns that saw us lose to the likes of Barrow and Hayes & Yeading.
Then enter Chris Wilder, a man with about as much charm as a Little Chef but as much will power as his Sheffield roots would suggest. He dragged us back into the Football League via the play-offs that culminated in an amazing afternoon at Wembley in 2010. We beat York 3-1 as around 35,000 Oxford fans made a day of it.
I never thought I’d be happy to be back in League Two but it was a massive relief. Wilder eventually left, going on to greater things as you are probably aware and we then appointed one, if not the, best manager Oxford have had in my lifetime in Michael Appleton.
He transformed the club, started scouting players properly, got us playing attractive football, discovered Kemar Roofe and won us promotion back to the third tier in 2016. Until the 2016/17 season our new stadium had never witnessed football above the basement level – a 16 year wait!
Appleton took us to two EFL Trophy finals, some pretty good cup runs and the cusp of the play-offs in the third tier. His ability to constantly unearth great talent with a massive sell on value helped keep the club’s debt down in part because Kassam still owns the soulless monstrosity of a stadium we play in and charges us a pretty penny for the pleasure.
Appleton left to become assistant manager to Craig Shakespeare at Leicester (I know, what a waste!) last summer and we appointed Pep Clotet – less said the better. He is now assistant manager at Birmingham and we now have Karl Robinson and a new Thai owner to take us forward into another new era.
RR: I know last season was a bit of a struggle, but you finished eighth the season before in your first season back in League One. Do you feel like you can push on this season and challenge for promotion under Karl Robinson?
JR: Based upon the first few games, no. In fact, I think we have more chance of going down, but Robinson is vastly experienced at this level and will probably steer us up the table.
To be fair, we have had some bad luck with injuries this season that has seen three of our best players all side-lined for a minimum of three months.
RR: You will know all about our new owners, of course. I’m interested to know what you think of Donald and Methven, as Charlie doesn’t appear to be too popular with Oxford fans if a couple of online forums are anything to go by! What do you make of both men though and do you think they’ll be successful at Sunderland?
JR: Personally, I don’t have a problem with Methven; in fact, I couldn’t care less really. As owners I’m sure they will be excellent, and I won’t have been the only one impressed with Stewart Donald’s openness about his plans for the club. Must be a breath of fresh air after the Ellis Short era!
They have a plan in place and know football inside out, so I have no doubt they will bring success. Sunderland is a massive club with a dedicated fan base, so that will really help and I’m sure, due to his likable nature and honest demeanour, fans will be pretty patient with Stewart if and when the team goes through a few rocky patches.
Jack Ross is an excellent manager and recruitment has been sensible. Throwing money at players in the third tier is very rarely successful as Bury fans found out last season. Bringing in the right blend of experience and energy is the way to go and Glen Loovens, Max Power and Luke O’Nien tick all the right boxes.
RR: Chris Maguire has looked good for us so far, and he will be looking to inflict the ex-player curse on Saturday. Anyone else in our side you’re worried about though?
JR: Maguire is an Oxford legend and a class act who was wasted at Bury, so I’m not surprised to see him smashing it again.
Max Power was excellent at Wigan last season and Josh Maja has started the season looking really sharp. You look to have a strong player in Lynden Gooch as well, so it could be a long afternoon for the team in Yellow.
RR: What about the Oxford squad? Anyone in particular that Sunderland fans should be keeping an eye on?
JR: Ricky Holmes is a cut above League One but has been struggling with a back injury. Marcus Browne on loan from West Ham has been excellent especially in the last couple of games and Gavin Whyte, a summer signing from Crusaders, has also impressed.
Lucky for you our strikers are terrible and we can’t defend to save our lives. Also, Karl Robinson insists on playing out from the back which has led to us giving the ball away on our own 18 yard line on several occasions, which is doing my hairline no good at all.
RR: How do you think Karl Robinson will approach this game, and what do you expect his starting line-up to be?
JR: Robinson likes to play possession football and makes the team play out from the back religiously. It is hit and miss in League One, due to players not being as comfortable on the ball, and can invite pressure if we are dragged too deep as was the case at Portsmouth. He likes to use the width of the pitch and our wide players are our most dangerous threat going forward, so expect to see us trying to force the ball wide and have the full-backs pushing on the overlap.
We will no doubt play the same 4-2-3-1 formation that we play every week regardless of the opposition. I can’t see him changing from the team that beat Burton except perhaps bringing Ricky Holmes in from the start, in which case Whyte will probably drop to the bench.
Mitchell, Ruffels, Mousinho, Nelson, Norman, Hanson, Brannagan, Holmes, Henry, Browne, Smith. Subs: Shearer, Dickie, Garbutt, Whyte, Obika, Mackie, McMahon.
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction please?
JR: Anything better than 7-0 will do, but I am still predicting an easy win for Sunderland!
I’ll say 3-0.