Analysis: Supporters can lift the U's players

The players and coaching staff of Oxford United pose for a photo at full-time following the team's victory in the League One play-off semi-final against Peterborough United
Oxford United will play at Wembley for the sixth time in their history when they face Bolton Wanderers on Saturday [Getty Images]

I have seen this League One play-off final described as a “free-hit” for Oxford United.

They are underdogs and they have made it to Wembley when many thought they had blown their chances of promotion long ago.

There were doubts - without a doubt - inside the club as the team struggled to find an identity under a new manager at the start of the year and crucially struggled to get results.

A play-off push was a dream that is forgotten soon after waking and the wake-up call had come in the shape of a 5-0 annihilation at Saturday’s opponents Bolton, which undoubtedly is also a big part of the narrative this weekend when the two sides meet again.

But without that on-the-field low, I doubt Oxford make the top eight by the end of the season, never mind the play-offs.

It allowed Des Buckingham to assert himself - and be himself - no longer having to try and contort to fit the mould of his predecessor.

It is well documented that Buckingham is an Oxford boy, he knows better than most that natives of his home city are difficult to impress and quick to spot a fake.

He has been much more successful at trying to replicate his own successes on his coaching journey around the world, than trying to duplicate the instruction manual of his fellow City Football Group graduate Liam Manning.

Some of the differences are subtle, the upturn in results has been more profound.

Having shipped five goals in one game at Bolton in mid-March, Oxford have conceded five in total in the 10 matches since.

Josh Murphy of Oxford United celebrates after reaching the League One Play-Off Final after victory over Peterborough United
Josh Murphy has scored eight goals and has five assists in all competitions this season [Getty Images]

Yes, they have found some steel, but they have also found a swashbuckling form of attack that is fun to watch and has allowed the previously almost anonymous Josh Murphy to become the star of the show in the season’s final act, while many of the regular cast have also been catching the eye.

Meanwhile, there was a dawning realisation that despite previous suspicion of each other, fans and club executives actually share the same goals, there was new found harmony.

More than 30,000 Oxford fans will head to Wembley more united than anyone could have envisaged at the turn of the year.

In doing so they have the chance to demonstrate the importance of the county’s only professional football club to Oxfordshire and the relevance of its struggle to move to a stadium that is worthy of it and can sustain it.

Those fans that are there in good number would do well to go in good voice.

The supporters at the two legs of the semi-final gave their all, their team responded.

Those in the away end for the second leg at Peterborough looked more spent as they left the stadium than those who had been on the pitch.

In political speak, Oxford need a massive swing their way if they are to go from a 5-0 loss a couple of months ago to a win at Wembley against Bolton, but those in the United team will not see this final as a free hit.

The people with the most confidence in these Oxford players? Themselves.