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Break refreshes Oxford United for must-win Southend clash
OXFORD United’s players were given extra time off this week in a move manager Chris Wilder hopes will rejuvenate the squad as a season’s work is put on the line tomorrow.
Anything other than a win against high-flying Southend United at the Kassam could end the U’s play-off hopes with a game still to play, depending on results elsewhere.
Despite producing solid performances in recent games, United have dropped out of the top seven following a five-game winless streak.
In an effort to freshen the players, both mentally and physically, they were handed the bonus of a two-day break this week.
Wilder is hopeful it will provide an extra boost which will be the difference tomorrow.
He said: “The players have worked very hard to get into this position, but we gave them a couple of days off to clear their heads.
“We had to do that to re-focus and in terms of the injuries we’re trying to get everybody right and the cotton wool time is upon us.
“They always come back from a break with a spring in their steps.
“They desperately want to get success this season and no doubt about it they’ll give their absolute maximum tomorrow to get it – as they’ve done in the last three games.”
The U’s boss stressed slipping out of the top seven after the 1-1 draw at Plymouth Argyle last weekend hurt his squad.
And he maintained no-one has more at stake than the playing staff over the next two games.
“They’re as frustrated as everybody,” he said.
“The boys have a lot to play for – it’s their careers – and they’re a caring bunch as well.
“At the start of the season we wanted promotion and from January we’ve been in the mix.
“Things went against us and we still stayed in there, but now we’ve just drifted out.
“The players aren’t just going home and thinking ‘what’s for tea?’, they’re an honest bunch – I don’t bring players in that don’t care.
“There’s a common goal for everybody, we’re all desperate to get into the play-offs.
“It’s not an ownership by the supporters that they’re the only ones that care because a lot is at stake for a lot of people.”
While the slump in form could not have come at a worse time, the situation could look very different by tomorrow night.
Swindon’s recent back-to-back defeats against Aldershot and Gillingham showed little can be taken for granted in the run-in.
Crewe Alexandra’s 14-game unbeaten run will be put to the test by a trip to automatic-promotion chasing Torquay United, while Cheltenham Town host a Bradford City side with the power to surprise.
And Wilder is well aware if United beat Southend they could end the day above both their rivals.
He said: “I truly believe the teams above us won’t win both their last two games, so we have to make sure we do the business for ourselves and put all our energy into it.
“After Plymouth I think a lot of people thought our season was finished, but a week later if we get our result right and a couple of other results go your way and we could end up in sixth.
“It’s not easy but it’s not unrealistic that come 5 pm we could be above Cheltenham and Crewe going into the last game of the season “All we have to do is focus on winning one game of football, and we’re more than capable of doing that.”