Those of a nervous disposition will have had their nerves tested to the limit at Bristol Rovers on Thursday night, City going 2-0 up then 3-2 down only to rally and win 4-3 in what must be called one of the games of the season. In terms of team selection Gary Caldwell’s options are somewhat limited due both to the squad size and the illness bug that ruled out the likes of Josh Key from the Portsmouth match, but Sam Nombe’s triumphant return to the starting eleven in Bristol will surely mean he keeps his starting berth, while Matt Jay has also grasped the opportunity with both hands and would feel very hard done by to miss out. A two week gap following the Oxford match will give Caldwell the opportunity to assess his options in terms of strengthening the squad during January especially given the strong attendances in the first half of the season which should hopefully give a bit of financial leeway.
Oxford could be forgiven for thinking this fixture pales into insignificance, as thanks to their decimation of City in the last round the Us face the mouth watering prospect of a visit from high-flying Arsenal in the FA Cup 3rd round next week. A 3-1 win over surprise strugglers Charlton on Thursday sees Karl Robinson’s side within sight of the top half going into 2023 after a difficult first half where Oxford have underperformed against expectations. While nobody has threatened to break into the top scorer charts as yet, there remains plenty of goal threat in the likes of Matty Taylor, Kyle Joseph and top league scorer Cameron Brannagan, who has nine in all competitions including six in the league.
While Oxford have often struggled for goals this season, that is most emphatically not the case against City. The reverse league fixture saw Oxford go 4-0 up through Brannagan, Long and a brace from Joseph before City rallied through Brown and Sonny Cox’s first league goal to reduce the deficit to 2-4. The Us also bagged four in the FA Cup fixture with Taylor, Bodin twice and Brannagan doing the damage before Matt Jay netted a late consolation. Even the youth team got in on the act, winning 3-1 at the Park. Those wins continued Oxford’s recent good form in this fixture, with the Us unbeaten in the last nine league games since City won 4-2 at the Kassam in September 2012. City do, however, still have a healthy league head to head lead with 15 wins to Oxford’s 10, 14 matches finishing level.
The match officials for this game will be:-
Referee: Darren Drysdale
Assistant Referees: Marvyn Amphlett and Damith Bandara
Fourth Official : Ryan Whitaker
The last time we saw Darren Drysdale take charge of an Exeter game was in August when we lost to Newport County in the EFL Trophy.