Doncaster Rovers v Oxford United: Plenty of catching up to do for the U's '“Â the opposition view
Oxford United are now delivering the sort of form many tipped them for before the start of the season '“Â just in time for their visit to the Keepmoat.
After a disappointingly sluggish start to the season, Karl Robinson's side are flying, having lost just once in their last 15 matches.
We spoke to the Oxford Mail's chief sports writer David Pritchard to get the lowdown on the Us and their impressive turnaround.
Q:Â How do you assess the season so far for Oxford and the shape they are in heading into the second half of the campaign?
DP: It's been a campaign completely split down the middle. From the first 11 league games they picked up just five points and were rock bottom '“ the next 11 have yielded 20 points.
There are plenty of reasons behind it, but the run which began with a pivotal home win over fellow strugglers Plymouth Argyle in October was a catalyst which has turned the season around.
The dreadful start means they have a lot of catching up still to do, but their run in the last ten weeks means they are going into the second half of the season looking up, rather than down.
Q:Â What were the expectations heading into the current season and how are they shaping up to those?
DP: Firstly there was a definite expectation of improving on last season, when a promising start fizzled out and there were concerns about slipping into relegation trouble before a late upturn under Karl Robinson.
While they are now on track to achieve that, talk of getting into the play-off mix this season is a long shot given the first two months.
Q: What have you made of the job Karl Robinson and how has he been received?
DP: I think we're just starting to see what he can do at Oxford. Last season was all about getting safe, which he managed, before embarking on a big turnover in personnel. That was needed, but a succession of serious injuries to key players early in the season saw him come under huge pressure.
It was beginning to tell, before an upturn in results came just in time. Fans were initially enthusiastic '“ there were an extraordinary list of names linked with the job in the spring '“ but that had quickly waned. Results dictate the mood and the recovery has seen him starting to win supporters over again.
Q: What style of play and system does Robinson favour?
DP: Robinson's philosophy is pretty well known '“ attractive football, played at a high tempo with width. But there was a naivete to them which was costly early in the campaign, before they found the gritty edge you need to grind out results at this level.
The poor early season form also saw him switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, which has got the best out of several players, notably skipper John Mousinho and top scorer James Henry.
Q:Â Who are the danger men for Oxford?
DP: Henry is in the form of his life in front of goal and already needs just one more to reach his best tally for an entire campaign.
The other two I'd single out are players few had heard of when they joined in the summer, but are now gaining plenty of attention. On one flank Marcus Browne is beginning to live up to the hype that he is a Premier League star of the future during a very productive loan from West Ham United.
While he is all about power, on the other side is the pacy Gavin Whyte, who United signed from part-time football in Northern Ireland. He has since gained a senior call-up for his country, scoring with his first touch in international football in September.