Ryan Clarke believes Oxford United could have been in a relegation dogfight had it not been for their strong start to the season.
The campaign has disintegrated spectacularly over the past two months, with the side tumbling from the automatic promotion places and crashing to the foot of the Sky Bet League Two form table.
United had been in the top seven of the table proper all season until earlier this month and Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Accrington Stanley dropped them to eighth, confirming they would miss out on the play-offs.
The goalkeeper admits it could have been far worse without the good first half to the campaign and thinks it is more painful than when United collapsed to throw away a top-seven place two seasons ago.
He said: “Probably yes, because of the position we were in, being so far into the play-offs.
“At the same time, it’s probably a good job we got all those points on the board because we’d have probably been in a relegation fight with the form we’re in.
“It’s probably been my worst day (Saturday) in football so far – that it’s come to this after looking at the position we were in.”
The comments are backed up by the results across the division during United’s slump.
Results were relatively consistent until their ten-month unbeaten away record in the division was ended by a 3-2 defeat at Newport County on Febuary 18.
After losing just five of their first 31 games, the setback at Rodney Parade was the first of ten defeats in the last 14 outings.
The table shows the fortunes of all League Two sides since that night, with the U’s four points adrift at the bottom.
Clarke, who turns 32 tomorrow, is one of the few players who can be confident they are part of head coach Gary Waddock’s plans for next season.
He has been excellent during the side’s slump and signed a new three-year deal in January.
Despite his individual form, United’s No 1 thinks the run has been down to falling short collectively.
He said: “We’ve all had our opinions in the changing room and I think we’ve all taken a backwards step.
“Maybe that is to do with a little bit of confidence because we’re in a bad run, that’s only natural.
“But at the same time I think we’ve got enough experience to grind out results, like we were in the first half of the season.”
The table of results since February 18
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