We may be unbeaten in our last 7 (somehow!), but things can only get better from a performance perspective after that dreadful display against Norwich on Saturday.
Our season is on track to be a ‘success’ based on Premier League survival, however this is our biggest game of the season to date, giving us the chance to progress to the last 16 of the FA Cup for the first time in 14 years.
League One opponents await, with tonight’s victors facing a tricky but winnable trip to West Brom in the next round – meaning we’re two wins against lower league opposition away from the Quarter Finals!
It’s set to be screened live on BBC One, with the TV cameras and Kassam crowd all hoping for an FA Cup upset, but it’s essential Bruce and the boys step up and get the job done in a game that could make or break our season.
In goal, it’s been confirmed that Dubravka hasn’t travelled, meaning Darlow looks set for another FA Cup run out.
At centre-back, Lejeune and Schar are set to start, and look likely to play either side of skipper Jamaal Lascelles.
At wing-back, Yedlin came off early on Saturday so should be fresh (although Lazaro would’ve been nailed on if he was able to play here), while Ritchie seems our only option down the left given Willems is crocked and Rose ineligible.
In the middle, Bruce has already confirmed that the two Longstaff’s will start, but the situation is less clear out wide, with Almiron ‘close to burning out’ and Saint-Maximin ‘not 100%’ according to Bruce.
Atsu is an option (and I can see him starting with ASM spared unless we need him late one), while youngster Tom Allan could get a few minutes from the bench late on.
Up top, Joelinton is another who needs a break badly, but he also needs a goal, so he’s almost certain to start again given he’s our only fit striker while Carroll, Gayle and Muto remain injured.
Predicted NUFC XI – (3-4-2-1): Darlow – Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune – Yedlin, M Longstaff, S Longstaff, Ritchie – Almiron, Atsu – Joelinton.
One ‘boost’ for Bruce and blow for Oxford is the fact key men Shandon Baptiste & Tariqe Fosu completed deadline day moves to Brentford.
Considering Baptiste gave Yedlin something to think about in the opening stages at St James’ Park, this may not do our chances of progressing any harm.
Since the 0-0 draw on Tyneside they’ve played once and won, beating Blackpool 2-1 at home last Saturday.
Bruce has confirmed that Schar, Lejeune and the both Sean and Matty Longstaff will start, but it’s reported that key man Martin Dubravka hasn’t travelled (rested).
Sadly, new boys Rose and Lazaro are ineligible after missing the opening leg, while Shelvey, Carroll, Gayle, Manquillo, Krafth, Muto and Dummett remain out injured.
Youngsters Tom Allan and Jack Young have travelled with the squad and could make the bench.
We were poor in the opening meeting at St James’ Park, but it was also clear Oxford had far more about them than the Rochdale side we cut through all too easily for 75% of the tie.
They even had chances to win it at St James’, so it’s essential we turn up with the right attitude here – especially when they’ll be desperate for a cup upset in front of the TV cameras.
That said, they’ve sold two of their best players to Brentford since we last met and I’d also argue playing away from home could work in our favour after Saturday’s woeful display.
I don’t think it’ll be pretty, but I think we’ll get the job done.
Prediction: Oxford 1-2 Newcastle