AS well as cheering a cup shock on Tuesday night, the travelling Oxford United fans might just have got a glimpse of a bright future.
The 2-1 victory over Bristol City, a side well fancied for promotion in Sky Bet League One, was a shock on paper, but not for anyone inside Ashton Gate.
Robins boss Steve Cotterill held his hands up afterwards, readily admitting the visitors had “out-passed and out-run” his side in the Capital One Cup tie.
The comments will have been music to the ears of Appleton, who has been busy implementing a style of patient, passing football since arriving last month.
It is a bold approach which few teams attempt in the Football League’s basement and will not be adopted without teething problems.
But the U’s head coach believes the cup win, which came three days after losing 1-0 at home to Burton Albion, was significant in convincing the players it is a system which can work.
He said: “You can talk about philosophies, but ultimately the players have to believe in it.
“They’ve seen what can happen and how they can play if they really believe.
“Hopefully, they can keep that belief and make it continue for the rest of the season.”
United are only 180 minutes into the brave new era and there are no guarantees an excellent display at Bristol City will translate into a performance away at Mansfield Town tomorrow .
But whatever the result at Field Mill, Appleton is committed to a long term project which he hopes will equip United for a sustained climb up the league ladder.
“This isn’t a process for just getting Oxford United out of League Two, whether it’s this season, next season or whenever,” he said.
- Michael Appleton (left) and Derek Fazackerley watch on at Ashton Gate
“This is a process that if we do get out of this division at some point we will be very competitive and get out of the next division.
“It’s not just about going up, thinking ‘this is fantastic’ but then find ourselves back in League Two after a season.
“There’s a plan in place to make sure when we go up, we stay up, compete and go up again.
“It’s very simple and I genuinely believe this is the way.
“It’s a real DNA of the club’s culture and it takes ages.
“If you’ve got people who are prepared to work hard every single day sometimes you can do it a bit quicker than the norm, but this is a long term strategy that we want to put in place.
“We’re two games into the season, I want to be speaking after 25 games and still send the same messages out.”
The aim is to emulate one of the biggest success stories of the last decade and within it the supporters have a big part to play.
Appleton said: “When you have a few good nights when you really start believing and the fans get into a place where they think ‘this is the Oxford way’ it’s amazing where it can take you.
“You only have to see what’s happened to the likes of Swansea. They were doing the same thing in League Two and now they do it in the Premier League.
“Say no more.”
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