KARL Robinson will tell his Oxford United players to relax before they walk out at the Stadium of Light this afternoon.

The U’s visit Sunderland (3pm), who are third in Sky Bet League One and top of the form table with eight wins in their last ten games.

It has propelled the Black Cats into automatic promotion contention, while ninth-placed United are challenging for the play-offs.

Robinson’s men strengthened their top-six bid with a 2-1 victory over high-flying Lincoln City a week ago and the U’s head coach wants his side to adopt the same mindset today.

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He said: “We see it as an opportunity to go there and perform free.

“There was no pressure on them on Friday and they performed really well.

“Sometimes people think when there’s no pressure on you you don’t work hard, but sometimes less pressure allows you to work harder and freer.

“That can be a much more difficult challenge for the opposition, rather than a fearful approach with the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

A combined crowd of more than 65,000 has watched the last two editions of this fixture, when United came away with creditable 1-1 draws on both occasions.

Today’s game will be behind closed doors, of course, and Robinson admits that could be more of a benefit to the hosts at comfortably the largest stadium in League One.

He said: “It’s a great place to play and even more special when there’s people in there.

“They’re probably not under as much pressure as they have been and that can be a real plus for them.”

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Sunderland will be aiming to continue a formidable record under manager Lee Johnson.

The former Bristol City boss lost his first game in charge, against Wigan Athletic on December 5, but the Black Cats have tasted defeat just twice in 26 matches since then.

United have had their own remarkable run in the last few months, winning nine straight games between December and February, but they have been inconsistent in recent weeks.

Impressive victories over Doncaster Rovers and Lincoln sandwiched poor defeats to Blackpool and Northampton Town, with Robinson changing systems to 4-2-3-1 in the loss at Sixfields.

He said: “That was the frustration with the Northampton game, we still meant to be aggressive but we never got into our stride.

“We’ve got to make sure we lock zones out and get back on the ball again.

“That was one big difference on Friday to recent weeks, we dominated possession of the football.

“We’ve got to make sure that’s the norm going forward and our wide players are aggressive in their one-v-one duels.”