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League One

Henry hoping for Championship return

12 July 2020

Experienced midfielder James Henry speaks exclusively to the EFL ahead of Monday’s Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final, as Oxford United compete for a place in the Championship next season.

On being 90 minutes away from the Sky Bet Championship… 
 

We’ve managed to get over the first hurdle and now we’ve got a one-off game at Wembley which is both exciting and nerve-wrecking, but it’s something that we hope we can come out on top of.

I think the emotions from everything took its toll on us after the Semi-Final. Everyone was really excited to reach the Play-Off Final, but at the same time we’ve only done half a job. We’ve got to go and play a really tough Wycombe Wanderers side at Wembley to get to the Championship, but everyone was obviously buzzing to be heading to Wembley, it’s such an iconic stadium and we’ve got a chance to progress to the Championship which was always the goal from day one.

It doesn't matter if we’re playing in front of 5 people or 50,000 people, we still need to go out there and perform on the day. 

 
On playing competitive football again…  
 
It was strange. We had about 10-12 weeks off but didn’t know if or when we’d start playing again, so we just kept going and training at home but I think what hit us most in the Semi-Finals was fatigue, if anything. Both of the Semi-Finals were cagey games, I think that showed. Portsmouth were always going to be a tough side and they were difficult games. Now we know there’s more to come with the style of football that we want to play. 
 
It felt easy when I was on the pitch for some reason, but when I came off I felt so mentally and physically tired. It was also really hard watching when I came off, knowing I couldn’t affect the game in any way anymore. But the boys stood up to the test. Penalties can be a bit of a lottery, but luckily it worked out well for us and the boys did really well. All five penalties were great penalties and then Easty [Simon Eastwood] does what he does best and came up with a big save to send us through.
 
On coming from behind to reach the Final… 
 
In the first leg, we were really disappointed with the way we started. We didn’t play how we had planned to at all and Portsmouth came out quick. It was difficult for us to get a foothold in the game but after they scored I do think it brought us to life a little bit.  
 
We needed a bit of individual brilliance to get us back into the game, but after that we weathered the storm. The main thing for us after the first game was to make sure we were still in the tie going into the second leg, because we knew going back to our place we’d be in with a good chance of a result. 
 
On the League One season…
 
It’s been so competitive this season, at both the top and the bottom ends of the table. But we’re thankful that we got the opportunity to play in the Play-Offs and we think we deserved it, because we have performed really well this season and ultimately we would have liked to finish the season and try to get up via automatic promotion, but that wasn’t to be so we’re grateful to be where we are now. 
 
On aiming for promotion…
 
I think every single club in every league goes into the season thinking they could get promoted or win the league, certainly within the EFL. You have to think that way. Have we got the biggest budget? I doubt it, so to other people we might not have been favourites to go up or reach this stage, but we believed withing the camp that we could do something special. 
 
On Karl Robinson… 
 
I think the whole club is going in the right direction and the gaffer is a huge part of that. He’s been brilliant with his recruitment process, especially after we lost some players. That’s what Oxford does and we know that if we get good players here at some point they may move on to another club, but we’ve brought the right players in to replace them as well. The gaffer has been brilliant with the young lads, he’s doing great things with them to develop them and it’s about having that balance with the senior boys. 
 
On his own performances this season… 
 
If we go up this season it’ll be one of my best. I’ve really enjoyed my football since I’ve come to Oxford, it took me a little while to settle in and I didn’t perform as well as I’d have liked but this season I feel I’ve performed consistently, as has the team and it’s been really good to be a part of. The way we play with our passing football really suits me and the manager has a lot of confidence in me to play my game, which is great. It also helps having players around you that know your strengths and I’ve certainly had that this year. 
 
I do think this season is one of my best seasons in terms of my goal involvements and performances, but the ultimate goal is promotion and that’ll be what determines whether it’s my best season. It’s great to have performed as an individual, but you want to achieve something as a team and if we can achieve promotion it’ll be the icing on the cake to my personal season. 
 
On previous promotions…
 
It’s amazing to win promotion. Some people aren’t fortunate to even get one in a career, so to have two is great. I’d love to make it three. We have a little board at the club with all the player’s promotion stats on so it’d be nice to turn my two into a three. Previous promotions and the experiences I have had will certainly help, but Monday is a one-off game and it’s about the whole team turning up on the day and playing our way. 
 
We know it’s a tough test, Wycombe are a very good side, they’re very good at what they do and they deserve to be where they are so it’s going to be a really interesting game, with two very different styles of football on show. 
 
On influencing the younger players…
 
I think we just try and keep everyone calm and level headed. There are a few of us who are a bit more senior, and we do have a very young squad. So it’s just about keeping people calm and making sure they’re ready to go and perform when the game comes around, because games like this don’t come around every day. It’s a one-off chance and that’s one thing we’ve talked about a lot - you may never get a better chance than this in your football career and we’re looking to take it. 
 
On gaining promotion with Oxford United…
 
It’s massive to everyone at the club. The Championship is where every player at this level wants to be, they want to take that next step up. I’m lucky enough to have played at that level before, but I’m desperate to get back there. I still believe in myself and I still believe that I can play at that level so this could be the best route back there for me and I’m desperate to take the opportunity and help the club achieve their dream.
 
As a club, Oxford is really moving in the right direction and promotion this season would really top it off. 
 
 
 

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