It's still very early days in the season but this week's match against Exeter has the potential to be one of those standout matches that mark a turning point in the direction of our season. With Exeter third and us currently fourth and one point behind, recent weeks have seen the top of the table become somewhat cramped as the early pacesetters have slipped and the chasing pack have caught up. But at the end of this round of fixtures, there's a very good chance that things will be less bunched as some drop points and others pull away. A win could see us go top while a defeat would put us four points behind and thus the result of this game could determine whether we remain one of the pacesetters or slip back to become one of the chasing pack.
The latter is a position which has become familiar to our opponents this week. While United have spent much of their time so far this season in the top three, Exeter have just moved into that echelon for the first time this season after a recent run of form which has seen them win three of their last four. Their 4-0 win away at Scunthorpe on Saturday was a real statement of intent but having moved into the top three on the back of such an impressive result the Grecians have now put themselves in a position to be shot at and this is what we have to try and do.
However, we'll have to do it without some important players. Johnny Mullins and Deane Smalley are both unlikely to be fit and Alfie Potter is a definite absentee. To an extent it simplifies matters as far as team selection is concerned. I would expect David Hunt will return to his usual right-back position with Jake Wright and Michael Raynes in the centre. With Potter out, Ryan Williams should come in on the right wing in a standard 4-4-2 formation. Of course, there have been a few occasions this season when Chris Wilder has chosen to shake things up and caught the opposition off guard – as against Northampton last time at the Kassam – but with the players available a 4-4-2 would seem the most likely lineup.
And while our injuries seem to be mounting up right now, Exeter appear to be heading towards a clean bill of health, with Matt Oakley the only notable absentee. He is replaced in the midfield by the returning Matt Gill who came off the bench to feature on Saturday after signing from Bristol Rovers last week.
Exeter have won their last three games on the road and naturally come into the game full of confidence. Our home form is less than impressive and Exeter are typically a side that we struggle against at the Kassam, with last season's disappointing 4-2 defeat a case in point. But, as has already been much discussed, if this season is to be different we need to overcome that and pick up more results at home and there have been some positive signs that we are moving in the right direction in this area. A win against Exeter would certainly back that up in style and put us in a very handy position.
From the Vaults
Oxford United v Exeter City, 4th September 2007
Having taken a look back at some of Oxford's greatest comebacks last week we unfortunately now remember an occasion when United were caught on the wrong side of similar heroics. With the pain of our recent play-off defeat at the hands of Exeter still raw, we appeared to be well on our way to exorcising those demons when the Grecians returned to the Kassam the following season. Two penalties from Rob Duffy had given us a comfortable lead but in typical fashion we collapsed in the second half, conceding the equaliser in injury time to draw 2-2.
You can find this and many other old OUFC matches in the VIDEO VAULT!