OXFORD United have wasted a big chance to challenge for promotion from Sky Bet League One this season, according to outgoing chairman Darryl Eales.

Improving on an eighth-place finish in the last campaign was the aim after a significant increase in the playing budget was sanctioned last summer.

But although United spent most of the first half of the season in the top-ten, a slump in form during the winter has ended hopes of a top-six push.

Instead the priority heading into the remaining dozen games will be to pull away from the relegation zone – only six points below – and secure survival as quickly as possible.

Eales said: “We’ve squandered an opportunity.

“We had a real opportunity this season and that’s gone.

“My view on this season is deep frustration about a highly-competitive budget not being used as effectively as it should have been.”

With Eales keeping a low profile until takeover talks with Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth were completed, he only made his first public comments on the sacking of Pep Clotet yesterday.

The former owner remained reluctant to get into the details of the decision, but suggested it did not just come down to performances on the pitch.

He said: “I don’t want to go into any deep and meaningful discussion over it , suffice to say I am probably not a knee-jerk person in terms of results and there was more to it than that.”

But Eales was clear that the move to end Clotet’s spell in charge after less than seven months, which came in the wake of the 2-1 home defeat to bottom club Bury, did not involve Thanakarnjanasuth.

“No,” he said. “

“That was purely mine and the board’s decision.”