“I’M probably going to upset people saying this, but I think we have been the best team in the division.”

Michael Appleton never got carried away, even just minutes after his Oxford United side sealed automatic promotion on the final day of the season.

The head coach knew how it would go down at the other end of the A43, where Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town had come through financial trouble to remarkably win the title by 13 points, helped by a double against the U’s.

But Appleton’s words were misinterpreted by the Cobblers, who either did not hear the next line or chose to ignore it.

The U’s boss said: “I genuinely believe, overall, what the players have achieved over 60 games has been magnificent.”

He was right, too, after a campaign crammed full of highlights across four competitions.

Also read: Oxford United promotion four years on – boss Michael Appleton reflects

A 4-0 Capital One Cup demolition away to Championship side Brentford in August set the tone.

In the FA Cup, they knocked out Premier League side Swansea City, while four days later Kemar Roofe scored another double in a 2-0 success at Millwall on the way to reaching the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final – a run which had begun with a dominant victory over Swindon Town.

It all came alongside a league campaign where the majority of the highlights came en route to compiling a club-record 14 away wins.

There were 5-1 victories at Stevenage and Crawley, two stoppage-time strikes to beat Notts County 4-2, and a goal-of-the-season contender from Roofe to see off Bristol Rovers.

The away form was always there when United stumbled at home – most tellingly in February following defeats to promotion rivals Northampton and Accrington Stanley.

But the wobble was steadied with successive victories at Exeter City and AFC Wimbledon. Both featured strikes from Jordan Bowery, who was proving a priceless January addition on the way to seven goals from nine league starts.

By the spring, though, their congested fixture list was catching up with them at the worst possible moment.

More than 30,000 U’s supporters were at Wembley to see a 3-2 defeat at the hands of a powerful Barnsley side in the JPT final, which came in a run where United won just once in six games.

The situation looked bleak as injuries mounted on what looked a desperate night at Newport County.

But the scrappiest of 1-1 draws kept United in the automatic promotion places on goal difference – they knew three wins to finish the season would finish the job.

When they needed a hero, up stepped Joe Skarz to start just three weeks after being ruled out for the season with a ruptured groin.

He said: “As soon as I got injured Ryan Taylor and I went on quite an extreme diet.

“All the lads have been ripping us to shreds, but when you get back from the injury I’ve had in three weeks, you could say it’s worked.”

Skarz lasted an hour on one leg, by which time United were on the way to a confidence-boosting 2-0 win against Hartlepool United.

One final away win followed at Carlisle United a week later, meaning victory against Wycombe Wanderers would complete the job.

The game was goalless at half-time but once United broke through, via Chey Dunkley’s powerful header, there was no looking back.

Chris Maguire added a penalty before Kidlington’s Callum O’Dowda made it 3-0 with virtually the final kick of the game.

It capped off a truly spectacular season, regardless of what anyone in Northamptonshire thought.


April 30, 2016

League Two, Brunton Park

Carlisle United 0, Oxford United 2 (Maguire, Sercombe)

Attendance: 6,948

Herald Series:

IF ever there was a symbol that Oxford United were on their way back, it came with the extraordinary turnout in Cumbria.

The final away game of the campaign was the longest – a 544-mile round trip – but 2,283 fans made the pilgrimage hoping to see something special.

For those unsure in the build-up, chairman Darryl Eales offered to sweeten the deal by laying on drinks and hot dogs in a nearby pub as a gesture of gratitude.

The equation was simple: win and at the bare minimum they stayed in control of their destiny with one game left.

A dream start came when Chris Maguire won and scored a fourth-minute penalty.

He said: “With how big the game is you might get people with a few nerves, but the type of player I am, I thrive on that.”

But the 1-0 lead was slender and with everyone around them in the table winning, the U’s could not afford a slip-up.

Nails were bitten furiously in the away end as the hosts pressed, with Danny Hylton clearing one shot off the line.

But salvation arrived, as so often that season, via Liam Sercombe. The midfielder’s 17th goal of the campaign arrived 17 minutes from time, ramming home a low strike.

Behind the goal the Yellow Army went barmy.

They knew a famous win was in the bag and promotion was within touching distance.

United: Buchel, Kenny, Dunkley, Wright, Skarz (Lundstram HT), MacDonald (Bowery 72), Sercombe, Ruffels, Maguire, O’Dowda, Hylton (Waring 84).