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Oxford United chairman remains optimistic about play-off chances
IAN Lenagan remains optimistic of Oxford United’s chances of reaching the npower League Two play-offs this season, although as it stands he is “not counting” on a top-seven finish.
The U’s chairman compares the season so far to a rollercoaster, with a strong start followed by a sharp dip during a bleak, pointless, September.
After treading water in the bottom half for several weeks, they climbed the table again during an eight-game unbeaten streak which only came to an end at Fleetwood Town last weekend.
With 18 games left they sit 12th, which Lenagan views as slightly below expectations, but he also admits the recent recovery means the position is not as bad as feared during the poor run.
“I feel we’re almost where we ought to be,” he said.
“I would’ve liked to have been in the top three, but with the injuries that we’ve got that was a hard task to achieve.”
He added: “I think the overall view is the place we’re in is better than the one we thought we would be in after the six defeats.
“The place we’re in we’ve got to by hard graft, good management, good play from the team and good support from the fans.
“If we can continue doing that then I’ve got some optimism we can get into the play-offs, but I’m not counting on it at the moment.
“It depends on the squad delivering as they have done and I think they’ve got the capability to do that and we’ll look at coverage where it needs to be done.”
The United chairman’s last extensive interview was in October, when a run of six straight defeats had sent the U’s tumbling down the table.
Manager Chris Wilder was coming under increasing pressure from a section of supporters, but Lenagan resisted calls to make a change, feeling it was unfair to make a judgement while the squad faced a long injury list.
“It was a difficult period, there were some Oxford supporters who were begging us to take action that I didn’t want to take,” he said.
“You have to say why and justify the decision.
“Most of them are realising now that perhaps it was the right thing to do.
“We won’t know until the end of the season, but I took a view that if I was to bring in a new manager at that point with the injuries in the squad what would they have been able to do? He wouldn’t be able to heal the sick, would he?
“Perhaps there is a bit of trust from the Oxford fans that we won’t make stupid decisions in a hurry.”
Opting to preserve the status quo has been rewarded with an upturn in results, as Wilder has reaped the benefits of players returning to fitness.
But there is still plenty of work to do.
Lenagan, who made it clear in pre-season he was “determined” to win promotion, remains focused on climbing the pyramid sooner rather than later.
He said: “You could not ask for a manager to do guide a recovery better than Chris has done – against lots of pressure from outside.
“That says to me he’s a good manager, but at the same time you have to achieve.
“Let there be no doubt about it, Oxford is about winning things, it’s about winning promotion and getting up through the leagues.
“We’re not here to sit in League Two, but we are here in a cool and calm way to get through into the Championship, which is our target.
“I would prefer it to be Chris Wilder who takes us to the Championship – whether he’s capable of doing that, we don’t know.
“I’d love it to be him, but to do that he’s got to achieve things.
“He’s achieved a lot in the last 11 weeks and I’m hoping he’ll achieve a lot more in the next few months.
“We’ll sit down at that point and be open and honest with each other about everything about Oxford United, just as we have been for the last six months.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Chris, he’s not a friend of mine or a close confidant of mine, but he’s an excellent person to work with me in the running of the team.
“I’ve enjoyed the directness, the honesty and the skill with which he’s managed the team over the last 11 weeks.”