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Oxford United fit for purpose as Rovers struggle
BEFORE a ball was kicked in anger a meeting between Oxford United and Bristol Rovers in November would have been seen as a clash between promotion contenders.
Anyone suggesting there would be 20 places and 15 points separating the sides would have been laughed out of the room.
But that is the gulf between the teams after contrasting starts to the season.
There are plenty of factors which go into determining the league table.
Few are more critical at this level, where squads can quickly be reduced to the bare bones, as consistency of selection.
Getting something close to your strongest side out more often than not is key to fulfilling potential.
While the U’s have not been immune to injuries and suspensions this season, it is relatively minor compared to tomorrow’s visitors.
The bookmakers put Rovers ahead of United in the pre-season promotion stakes, but manager John Ward has been hit by a lengthy injury list.
United boss Chris Wilder is well aware of what his opposite number has been going through after suffering similar problems last season.
“No matter how you look at it, if your best players don’t play and you are chopping and changing your side you can’t get any fluency or consistency,” he said.
“There are times when you just have to really grind results out, but when your best players are sat on the treatment table, which looks like it’s happening at Bristol Rovers, then it becomes tough.
“John will know that when their big players come back they will be a force.”
As if to ram home the difference between the sides, leaders United go into the game boosted by the return of three key players.
Alfie Potter, Johnny Mullins and Dave Kitson are all due to return to the squad tomorrow.
With Rovers expected to come good at some stage, this might be seen as a good time to play them, but Wilder is not so sure.
He said: “You only know that at five o’clock when you have done the job you want to do yourself.
“We will see, but all we can do as a staff is prepare the team.
“It’s always good to have players like Mullins, Potter and Kitson back in your sessions and they are all fighting to get into that team.
“That makes it a lot more comfortable for me to know that I have got those players back.
“It’s timing, but they will have young players who will relish the opportunity of trying to get a win.
“I should imagine there will be no pressure on those players.
“They will be chucking it all on us and we have got to handle it and make sure we keep our standards.”
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