JUST last April Oxford United’s fans had huddled on the terraces at Forest Green waiting for news that their club was safe from relegation on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Everyone knew a 19th placed finish had been a serious under-achievement for a club that had a budget to match most in the top half of the table.

But to rebuild a squad to challenge for promotion looked like a longer-term project for Liam Manning, who led the U’s into the new season with little talk of a top six finish.

All that changed when they led the embryonic league table after four games, sticking around in the top two until early November when Manning was snapped up by Championship Bristol City and the recruitment process brought a spell of inconsistent form.

In truth, the left-field appointment of Des Buckingham, a relative unknown on these shores, with experience of club football in New Zealand, Australia and India, was questioned for a fair while, even within the fanbase at the Kassam Stadium.

A 5-0 hammering at Bolton in March saw Oxford drop to a season-low eighth spot. Expectations were being recalculated with only eight games left to play and while a play-off place was still possible, clubs like Lincoln and Blackpool looked to be on more of a charge.

A 2-0 win at Port Vale the following Saturday proved a catalyst, and no other team in League One took more points before the end of the season. Oxford won five, drew two and lost one of the final eight to claim sixth spot on the final day. In comparison, Bolton won three, drew four and lost one over the same period of time.

As if to underline that run of consistency the U’s then despatched fancied Peterborough United in the semi-final, winning a close first leg 1-0 and then holding on to dear life to a 1-1 scoreline at London Road with some late heroics from defender Sam Long and keeper Jamie Cumming.

Bolton may go into the play-off final as favourites, but Oxford have heard it all before. The Year of the Ox may yet arrive early!