WHILE the return of fans is a welcome step towards normality, Oxford United are bracing for another new experience in this strangest of years.

The U’s will be watched by 1,000 lucky season ticket-holders against table-toppers Hull City as they play their first home game in front of a crowd since February.

The Sky Bet League One clash is a trial to see if supporters can follow coronavirus restrictions inside the Kassam Stadium, with United releasing a detailed code of conduct for those attending.

Karl Robinson: Oxford United starting to see impact of consistent line-up

Measures include fans having to wear face masks in the stands, as well as a staggered exit at full-time.

U’s boss Karl Robinson is looking forward to seeing supporters again, but admits it will still feel different.

He said: “It’s going to be even more surreal than nobody being there.

“The tribal aspect that the fans generate is about congregating as a group in one particular area.

“Now you’re separating that area and putting people in certain bubbles.

“We hope this is a positive sign.

“We’re excited and it’ll be nice to see people back in there.”

If tomorrow’s pilot is successful, United will be allowed to welcome 1,500 fans to their Papa John’s Trophy second round tie at home to Forest Green Rovers on Tuesday.

After that, the capacity can be raised to 2,000 supporters, the maximum allowed while Oxfordshire remains in the middle tier of coronavirus restrictions.

It will be some time before the U’s are watched by a figure close to the 7,451 that saw their last home game in front of a crowd, a 2-1 win over Southend United on February 29.

Although Saturday cannot promise celebrations like the ones that greeted Matty Taylor’s 84th-minute winner that day, Robinson hopes his side can give fans something to cheer.

He said: “The people in there will obviously do their best, but we have to make sure we lift them as well.

“We’ve played good football, we just need to find a way to take opportunities when they come along.”

The return of supporters has come at the right time for Jack Stevens, who is set to retain his place in goal after keeping a clean sheet against Ipswich Town on Tuesday.

It was the 23-year-old’s first league start for more than 18 months, but he insisted he will not feel any extra pressure with fans inside the ground.

He said: “We’re all missing the fans and it’s been such a shame that they’ve missed out on so many games.

“I’m looking forward to running out and hearing some real fan noise, not the artificial noise.

“Sometimes when you go on loan to the lower leagues it’s even tougher, because there’s 50 behind you giving you abuse rather than a few thousand.

“It’s part of football and we miss it. Having the fans behind us keeps us on our toes.”

For Oxford United’s summer signings, it will be their first chance to play in front of supporters wearing a yellow shirt.

Defender Rob Atkinson joined the U’s in January but was immediately loaned back to Eastleigh, so only made his debut this season.

He said: “I’d love to play in front of the Oxford fans and it’s going to be a debut in itself.”