“IT’S been really difficult.”

Les Robinson’s first attempt to select the best Oxford United XI from his decade of service resulted in him selecting two whole teams.

It shows the quality which passed through the Manor Ground during the 1990s, when the full back racked up 459 appearances.

The ‘shortlist’ for the centre half positions ran to 20 players alone, but eventually Robinson managed to narrow it to an XI and a bench.

“It was a shock to look to be honest,” he said.

“The amount of teammates I had in that period of just over ten years is unbelievable, easily into three figures.

ARCHIVE: Oxford United's sprint finish to 1995/96 promotion ends in style

“When you look at the guys who came and went in my time, there were some cracking players and it was a pleasure.”

The result is a team which would take some stopping – and featured many who went on to have careers at the top level.

“I don’t what I did wrong,” Robinson joked.

“We were getting them all on the way up as well.

“They were brought on by the club and went on to bigger and better things.

“I don’t look back and wish my career was anything different, though.

“I just wish I could have it again.”

GOALKEEPER

Phil Whitehead

Herald Series:

He had a good two or three seasons with us, including when we got promoted in 1996.

Phil covered all bases really, he was agile, he was a good talker, a good shot stopper.

He would be my No 1, closely followed by Paul Reece, who was a great shot stopper and had excellent reflexes.

RIGHT BACK

Les Robinson

Herald Series:

This is a bit awkward, but I’m going to have to pick myself.

Whenever they brought someone in to take my place I held my own.

At my testimonial Denis Smith said something like I never gave him below seven out of ten. That was me really.

I’m thought of as dependable and I’m happy with that.

Also read: Josh Ruffels picks his top Oxford United XI from 136 teammates

CENTRE BACKS

Matt Elliott

Herald Series:

I’ve gone for him for obvious reasons – he was a great player and a great teammate who could pop up with a crucial goal as well.

The only thing Matty was lacking was a bit of pace, but that didn’t stop him going to the top, captaining Leicester City and playing for Scotland.

Andy Melville

Herald Series:

  • Mickey Lewis (left) and Andy Melville went on to coach United’s first team

Some people might have gone elsewhere with this one, but while he was at Oxford he was a lot like Matty, with a bit more pace, but he was actually better on the ball than people perhaps thought.

Again he went on to play in the Premier League and for Wales, that was how good he was.

Another great lad, down to earth with excellent ability.

LEFT BACK

Mike Ford

Herald Series:

Fordy was fantastic and a good captain.

He led by example and wanted it just like I did, so I think as a pair we did well.

I look at the 1995/96 team and the back five were the catalyst for the rest of it.

It’s hard because you also had Paul Powell and Simon Marsh, who played for England Under 21s when he was with us, and Anton Rogan.

RIGHT MIDFIELD

Joey Beauchamp

Herald Series:

Stuart Massey’s very unfortunate not to be in this XI, but Joey was a superstar for us.

The fans and all the players loved him because he was a smashing lad and could produce moments of magic.

I think as a partnership we complemented each other.

He was great going forward, I defended well.

I genuinely think I helped him a lot by my directions, giving him a rollocking when he needed it.

I think it meant he ended up a more rounded player.

CENTRE MIDFIELD

Jim Magilton

Herald Series:

The only one who could have gone in this position ahead of Jim was Les Phillips.

You could see he had incredible ability, but I didn’t play a lot with him, so it’s Jim all day long for me.

He had great self-confidence, scored goals and set them up.

He had the lot and is another who had a career at the top level.

Mickey Lewis

I played so many games with Mickey and I used to travel in with him from Banbury.

In that position to be Jim’s partner you’d have to work and do the hard stuff.

It’s all about partnerships and he complemented Jim so well.

Dave Smith and Martin Gray could also have done it, but I think it’s got to be Mickey.

LEFT MIDFIELD

Paul Simpson

Herald Series:

  • Paul Simpson (in blue) with the victorious England Under 20 World Cup squad in 2017  Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire

It doesn’t surprise me he’s working creatively with England’s age groups.

You could see it in the way he played, he wasn’t one of those kick-and-rush players who would try to beat everybody with pace.

He had great technical ability, which is what you’d want at the top of your coaching game.

He went to the Premiership with Derby and did well.

STRIKERS

Paul Moody

Herald Series:

I remember seeing him play against us for Southampton reserves and I thought he was rubbish.

So when we signed him I was a bit shocked and when he first came he was very raw.

Half the time I don’t know if he knew what he was doing, but the best couple of years we had was when Moods scored 24 goals in back-to-back seasons.

He was a big part of that successful period we had.

Dean Windass

Herald Series:

This is probably the most difficult one, because he wasn’t there that long but you can’t knock what he did for us.

He went on to have a top-flight career as well.

It was his work-rate which really impressed me.

He would put his foot in, go in where it hurts to score goals. I think that just edged it for him.

That’s over the likes of John Durnin, who ran his socks off all day, and David Rush, who came in and was the second top scorer in the promotion season.

BENCH

  • Stuart Massey
  • David Rush
  • Phil Gilchrist
  • Anton Rogan
  • John Durnin
  • Darren Purse

MANAGER

Denis Smith

It would be between Brian Horton or Denis Smith.

Brian signed me but then gave me a hard time for six months, but I don't know if he was trying to build me up.

Herald Series:

  • United boss Brian Horton with Les Robinson

It wasn't until I stood up naked in the changing room at Bristol City away when I got blamed for a goal because of a throw-in I took two minutes earlier.

I had had enough by then and we had it out, but from that day we never had a problem. I think he did it to make me a man.

We played Port Vale a few years later and I was chatting to him in the office afterwards and he said I was one of the best signings he'd ever made in terms of value for money.

He gave me the initial three-year contract and then my second one was down to him as well, while I was injured as well so I was fortunate.

But Denis was outstanding as well. I think I would go for him, because we had the best years under him.

Herald Series:

  • Denis Smith (right) with Oxford United owner Robin Herd in 1995 

His honesty, the way he dealt with the lads was brilliant.

I find a similar thing now in my job at school, if you can get a rapport with the lads they will do anything for you.

If they know you are bothered about them, you'll get it back.