With City going down to yet another league defeat to remain in the relegation zone albeit nobody was ever promoted or relegated in August, the hectic first month of the season comes to an end with the first group match in the controversial new format for the Checkatrade (EFL) Trophy, which thanks to the EFL’s crazy decision to invite Premier League U23 sides (a “consolation prize” seemingly after their even more absurd plan to absorb the U23 sides into the league format) has led to talk of boycotts and even more general apathy than usual. City’s injury woes deepened against Portsmouth with Jordan Tillson now a long-term absentee with a fractured ankle, while Paul Tisdale is left with a dilemma over whether to field a strong side to try to build shattered confidence or whether to use the trip to Oxford to give some pitch time to youngsters such as Alex Byrne and Matt Jay. Christy Pym and James Hamon will no doubt fight over who gets to play in goal with Bobby Olejnik likely to sit it out.
Oxford, after storming to promotion from League Two last season, have found life somewhat tougher in the third tier and, like City, have recorded one victory in the league so far and, like City, put out Championship opposition in the first round of the EFL Cup before losing last week. The loss of the talismanic Kemar Roofe will have hurt Michael Appleton’s side, as will have the injury sustained by summer signing from City Christian Ribeiro. Like with City it will be difficult to gauge whether those who do choose to attend will be effectively watching a reserve fixture.
The sides met last season and it’s fair to say Oxford were much the better side on both occasions, winning 3-0 at home and 4-1 at the Park – something of an unusual occurrence for recent years as City have generally had the upper hand. The sides have met in the fairly recent past in the various iterations of this competition, during the brief period when the top non-league clubs entered, and it was non-league City who triumphed on penalties at the Kassam in 04/05 after the match finished 2-2.
Odds for the game are: 8/15 on for the Oxford win; 3/1 for the draw; and 5/1 for an Exeter win.