WE reach the half-way stage of the season in a positive mood and still competing in both the league and the Checkatrade Trophy.

Obviously, last weekend we suffered a bitterly disappointing defeat at home to a very strong Wigan side and I won’t hide the fact I was deeply hurt by that result.

I never make excuses, will hold my hands up and take responsibility for what happened.

But I asked the players to show their true character at Gillingham and was delighted with their attitude and character.

On a very cold day and difficult pitch we battled for everything and I thought deserved to win the game.

But we conceded from a late corner and were left with just one point rather than three.

Sometimes you have to take a step back and think about the bigger picture.

A point away from home is always good, but more importantly I think the players showed their belief in each other and what we are trying to build here.

Note the word ‘build’ because I think it is a key one to remember.

By coincidence we also played Gillingham in the first game of 2017.

And if you look at the line-up that day only Simon Eastwood and Ryan Ledson from the starting XI also played from the beginning on Boxing Day.

That is a big change for any team and I take my hat off to the players for the way they have adapted and accepted the challenge.

We have taken some blows this season, but each time we have bounced back and shown a real inner strength.

That is why I believe we have plenty of grounds for optimism as we enter 2018.

We have a good blend of experience and exciting young players and we are learning every week and with every game.

Bradford will be a very good test for us today, because they have been together as a squad for a little longer, and slowly but surely established themselves as major contenders in this division.

We are only in our second campaign in this division, but showed earlier in the season that we can compete against them and hopefully we can come back with all three points and a positive end to 2017.

I would like to wish the readers of the Oxford Mail a happy new year.

I hope that 2018 is a good one for everyone and especially for all Oxford United supporters.

WE are back at home on Monday to host MK Dons, which will be a different sort of challenge for us.

I am sure that the memories will be fresh for the players as well as the fans after our last home match.

It can take a while for wounds to heal. We have no divine right to expect the fans to get behind us.

We have to earn that by being positive, starting strongly, and showing them that we are up for the fight.

I urge the fans to encourage and stay behind us on Monday.

They can help create the best possible environment for the players to start 2018 as they mean to go on.