After two consecutive victories, Oxford City need just three more points to reach a key landmark. Sadly, this landmark won’t give them automatic promotion, a guaranteed play-off place, or even just sneak them into the play-off positions. Instead, perhaps aptly coinciding with the start of the cricket season, it would bring up their half-century.
Fear not though, as a trip to one of just two cities to host both County Championship cricket and National League South football this season won’t see the Hoops switching sports. City make the trip just 2.5 miles further North than the Essex County Cricket Ground, on Saturday afternoon, to Melbourne Park to face Chelmsford City in a 3pm kick-off.
There is a little more significance to bringing up 50 points than it just being a cricketing milestone – it would see City eclipse their points tally from the 2017/18 campaign and, if other results go their way, guarantee mathematical safety from relegation for another season.
The thought of 'the R-word’ may just have crept back into a few fans’ minds after a January and February which saw City pick up just a solitary point in the eight matches. That of course came from a 2-2 draw with Eastbourne Borough – which was the first time that manager Mark Jones had recorded that result during his tenure at the club.
March has been much kinder to the Hoops who have now registered three league victories from their five league matches this month; last weekend’s 4-1 win against Dulwich Hamlet by far the most impressive score-line, as further wins against Chippenham Town and East Thurrock United both returned 1-0 score-lines.
But the Hoops come up against a side who have lost just once in the league this calendar year, in fact losing just twice since Oxford City triumphed 4-0 at home in November in the FA Trophy. Nine wins, four draws and a 1-0 loss to Slough make up their last 13 fixtures, a run that has firmly cemented their place in the top four.
The Clarets’ play-off credentials will certainly be tested in their final seven fixtures with a schedule that boasts matches against all three teams above them on the table, but also tough tests against a resurgent Wealdstone and St Albans remaining.
Perhaps surprisingly though, it is actually the Hoops that sit in the higher position in the five game form table. Despite having lost twice in that period, the nine points gained in the three wins trumps this weekend’s hosts recent form of four draws and a victory.
The Hoops hold the superior record in the matches between the two sides since they moved over from the Conference North in the 2015/16. From the eight meetings, the Clarets have two wins, City have five, with the other being a 2-2 draw – which included Bradley Bubb’s spectacular half-way line strike – in the first ever meeting.
It’s one apiece this season, however, with the teams having done battle twice at Marsh Lane: once in the league, the other in the FA Trophy. Both matches started in identical fashion – Kabby Tshimanga giving Oxford City the lead inside 20 minutes, however that is certainly where the similarities end.
In October’s league game, things went pear-shaped for the Hoops as soon as they were awarded a dangerous free-kick in the 29th minute. It actually saw the visitors break through Rhys Murphy who was able to finish under Craig King. The Clarets kept control of the match throughout the second half as Scott Fenwick and another from Murphy saw them run out 3-1 winners.
Just under a month later, City made a dominant second half tell. Tshimanga doubled the lead just after the break, before Sam Nombe and Zac McEachran sealed the result late on to see the Hoops through to face Maidenhead United in the next round.
But in last season’s meeting at Melbourne Park, the Hoops picked up their first league win for three months, just a week after they stunned League Two Colchester United in the FA Cup.
A goal in either half – Dave Pearce and Godfrey Poku both on target – was plenty for the Hoops and, despite the Clarets getting one back in the second half, the City defence was able to see out the remaining time to pick up a very important win.
But just like a day four wicket, form can turn sharply at this level, so expect the unexpected tomorrow!