Oxford United: Michael Appleton challenges side to mount League One play-off challenge

Oxford striker Kane Hemmings
Oxford United striker Kane Hemmings spurned one of his side's few chances at Wembley

Oxford United manager Michael Appleton has challenged his side to bounce back from another Wembley disappointment by reaching the League One play-offs.

The U's lost 2-1 in Sunday's EFL Trophy final to Coventry City, their second Wembley defeat in successive years.

Oxford go into Wednesday's home game with third-placed Fleetwood seven points outside the play-off places.

"It's a tall order for us now, with only six games to go," 41-year-old Appleton told BBC Sport.

"From a belief point of view, if we can get the three points on Wednesday night, then who knows."

He continued: "We're probably now going to have to win at least five of the last six games to give ourselves any chance and even that might not be enough.

"It's a tough game against a decent Fleetwood side, but the players' frustration is the same as mine and we've just got to shake it off.

"Footballers are pretty resolute and they bounce back pretty quickly."

Wembley.... for a third time?

Oxford's position is in marked contrast to a year ago, when, after losing to Barnsley in the 2016 Trophy final, Appleton's goal was simply avoiding a return trip to Wembley in the end of season League Two play-offs, which they did by sealing automatic promotion.

Oxford United pictures dejected at full-time in EFL Trophy final
Liam Sercombe's late goal was not enough for Oxford United to force the EFL Trophy final into extra time

"This time last year it was all about 'make sure we don't come back here in May," he said.

"We were in a pretty strong position in the league and wanted to make sure we finished the job off and not get caught up in having to pay in the play-offs

"This year the message is a little bit different. We're one of the chasers.

"There's still an opportunity and Wednesday night now becomes massive."

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