Oxford United FC

Key player: Matty Taylor

Taylor is perhaps best known for being the first man in three decades to straddle the divide of the River Avon, famously moving from Rovers to City on January Deadline Day in 2019. A top scorer in League One, Taylor (like so many) could not quite convert his skills to the Championship.

One unsuccessful spell later for the Robins, Taylor was sold to Oxford where his career has found a second wind under Karl Robinson. He initially signed on loan at the start of the 19/20 season and was electric until the pandemic impacted the season, finishing up as top scorer. This is a feat he repeated the season after, signing permanently and ending up on 18 goals.

Taylor is crucial to Oxford’s hopes. For all the chances they create, they need a striker capable to get on the end of them. Often last season, he failed to convert absolute sitters, which will need to change next year.

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Manager: Karl Robinson

For a man who has been a fixture of English football for the past decade, it is completely remarkable that Robinson is still only 40. He first began to draw the attention of the English football media when he was appointed to Milton Keynes at the age of 29, back in 2010. By a considerable distance, he was the youngest manager in the football league.

Robinson earned a reputation as someone who likes to play pretty football and establish a clear philosophy, which includes the integration of young players from the academy. This earned him time in Milton Keynes even when results weren’t going his way.

The spell came to an end eventually however and after a brief spell at Charlton, he re-settled himself in Oxford. His spell there has been an unqualified success, taking them into mid-table in his first season before two near misses at promotion in the covid-impacted seasons followed. He has been well backed but has nonetheless delivered very well on his budget and will be hoping the third time’s the charm.

Creator: James Henry

Whilst Taylor was probably the most crucial player for Oxford’s success last season, Henry was also paramount to their promotion hopes. Now a stalwart of the squad, the playmaker was bought in by Michael Appleton in the summer of 2017 and soon endeared himself to new boss Karl Robinson with a series of good performances.

A perennial drifter up to the age of 28, Henry had never really established himself as being beloved by the fans of any one club. The Oxford spell changed all this. Joint top scorer with 11 in his first full season, he put up an even more impressive 15 goals in the 2018/19 campaign.

Whilst he’s not quite hit those numbers since, he’s certainly impressed in the creative department. Top assister last season with a nifty 11, he is the main creative driving force in the team. Very capable with both feet, he can pass through the middle and cross well when he gets out wide.

It is perhaps worth noting that at 31 (Taylor) and 32 (Henry) Oxford’s two main attacking threats are both elder statesmen.

Key departure: Robert Atkinson

Having mentioned Taylor, who went from Bristol City to Oxford, the most disappointing transfer of this summer for Us fans ended up being the decision of Atkinson to reverse that journey. Atkinson had only one meaningful season with Oxford, but what a truly incredible season it was.

Everyone loves a feel good story – that player who comes up through the ranks of non-league and makes a career for themselves always makes a good story for TV compilations at the season’s end. Atkinson’s story is a rather fast tracked version of the same tale. Having initially been bought to Fulham from Basingstoke, he may have thought he’d missed his moment when he was released and ended up signing for Oxford.

He was bought into Oxford in January 2020 from Eastleigh before being loaned back to them for the rest of the curtailed season. He didn’t even make it into the team at the start of the 2020/21 campaign but he kept his place by performing fantastically when he got his chance.

At 6 foot 4, Robinson is big and imposing but in the spirit of Karl Robinson’s style, he can play it out well from the back too. He will be missed by Oxford who will find themselves more defensively vulnerable in his absence. The lack of an outstanding signing at centre-back may be the difference between making the top six again and not.

Target: Play-offs

After two play-off campaigns in a row, Oxford have kept the core of the squad that got two consecutive play-off seasons in place. They’ve released a few players but the only unwanted exits were Atkinson and Josh Ruffles. They’ve signed some decent players on paper – Billy Bodin is probably the pick of the bunch.

That said, their squad is not substantially better and the league they’re competing in certainly looks stronger than ever before.


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League One Season Preview 2021/22