Swansea success makes Michael Appleton and Oxford believe

Friday 08 Jan 2016
Michael Appleton's Oxford United have lost just four of their last 41 games

Three decades ago Swansea City were about to be relegated to the fourth tier of English football while Oxford United were in the top flight and would soon lift the first major trophy in the club’s history.

Since then Sunday’s Emirates FA Cup third round opponents have gone in markedly different directions - the Swans have risen through the divisions and are enjoying a fifth consecutive season in the Premier League while the U’s are looking for a return to the third tier of English football for the first time in 15 years.

After a challenging decade-and-a-half Oxford appear to have turned a corner this season and their boss Michael Appleton believes his side can learn a lot from this weekend’s opponents.

Oxford United v Swansea City

Emirates FA Cup
Third Round Proper
Midday, Sunday 10 January
The Kassam Stadium, Oxford United FC
Live on BBC Wales
Winning club will receive £67,500

“Without a shadow of a doubt Swansea are a brilliant model and our chairman Darryl Eales has already used them as an example,” Appleton told TheFA.com.

“If we can do half of what they’ve done in taking a team from the fourth tier into the promised land of the Premier League then I think he will be delighted.

“There are other examples out there too. You’ve only got to look at what Eddie Howe has done at Bournemouth.

“I think it gives all lower tier clubs great belief that, if they have the ambition, they can achieve great things.”

That ambition is something Appleton has instilled in the players since replacing Gary Waddock in July 2014.

Since the end of last season Oxford have been on a magnificent run, losing just four of their last 41 games in all competitions and the boss says that form is all down to the attitude of his players.

“Although we can’t play in the Premier League because we are a League Two side we can still set our standards at Premier League level,” he said. “That means the way we conduct ourselves, the way we train and the way we prepare.

“We certainly haven’t got the budget of a Premier League side but it doesn’t stop us from having the right attitude and acting like a Premier League side off the field.

Appleton is still only 40 years old but he began his coaching education early after being forced to retire from playing following a serious knee injury suffered during a West Bromwich Albion training session when he was just 28.

Michael Appleton in action for West Brom in 2001

Appleton in action for West Brom in 2001

The former Manchester United youth product then leapt straight into coaching, working his way through the ranks at the Baggies before becoming assistant manager to a man who had a big hand in his development.

“As a coach, Roy Hodgson has had a massive influence on me,” he reflected. “Some of the attention to detail Roy goes into on the training field is magnificent.

“I learned a hell of a lot during my time with Roy and I certainly used that experience in the difficult times I’ve had already in my short career as a manager.”

Emirates FA Cup fever has certainly gripped Oxford United with the Kassam Stadium a sell-out for this weekend’s game, the first time that has happened since the stadium opened.

And Appleton’s message to the players is simple – keep those fans coming back.

“No-one expects us to get anything out of the game other than the 12,500 fans who are going to be there on Sunday,” he said with a smile.

“So the players can go into the game relaxed, express themselves and show people who have not been to the Kassam for a couple of months, or even a couple of years, that there’s a side worth following.

“If they aren’t quite at it and we play well on the day and play to our potential there’s no reason why we can’t cause an upset.”

Whatever the outcome of this weekend’s game the future looks bright for Oxford. Appleton’s ambition is shared by Eales, who is determined to make the club progressive both on and off the field.

“The chairman is very ambitious and he’s got a real passion for community and education to go along with his love of football,” said Appleton.

“The longer ambition is for us to be a very competitive Championship side but on the way he wants to bring the community back together.

“There’s a feeling that, as a club, we lost our identity a little bit so he wants to get as many people in the Oxfordshire area engaged with and behind Oxford United as he can.

“He will back me along the way but he won’t be stupid.

“We have a very tight wage structure and there are certain figures we won’t go above and beyond, the players know that.

“I think that brings a bit of hunger and desire to the players who walk through the door because if they want to come to a club that is ambitious and plays good football we feel we have created that environment for them.”

By Chris Hall Digital Content Officer