JOSH Ruffels is calling on Oxford United to relish the underdog tag when they begin their campaign at title favourites Sunderland today.

The U’s kick off their 2019/20 Sky Bet League One bid against last season’s beaten play-off finalists, who are expected to be backed by a bumper crowd at the Stadium of Light, with ticket sales predicted to break the 30,000 mark.

United will have an impressive turnout themselves, with a large following making the trip to Wearside.

Karl Robinson’s side, who have this week been boosted by the triple signing of Ben Woodburn, Anthony Forde and Elliott Moore, arrived in Sunderland yesterday in a confident mood.

They twice held the Black Cats to 1-1 draws last season and defender Ruffels believes the U’s can use those experiences to their benefit.

“It’s a great game to start,” said the 25-year-old, who is set to make his 222nd appearance for the club this afternoon.

“We played really well there last season and got a great result out of it, so hopefully we can do the same.

“It’s a great stadium, there will no doubt be a full house, so I can’t wait.

“It’s nice to be the underdog and you usually come away with something when you’re under no pressure, so fingers crossed that happens.”

Ruffels, who has been handed the No 3 shirt, heads into the new campaign off the back of a busy pre-season.

He played more minutes than any other United player – 525 – and is heading into his first full campaign as a left back.

Having played in midfield for the majority of his U’s career, Ruffels was moved into the role by boss Karl Robinson last season and sees it as his regular position moving forward.

He said: “It’s weird how it’s turned out, but I’m really enjoying it.

“I probably wouldn’t have seen myself playing there a few years ago.

“I feel like I built into it last season and now I am established there for the start of this year. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

All six summer signings are available, with Robinson’s main decision over whether to throw centre half Moore in at the deep end after only two training sessions, or keep faith with John Mousinho alongside Rob Dickie.

United have no injury worries, with Jamie Hanson recovering from a knock which saw him miss last weekend’s draw at Solihull Moors.

The only senior player not to travel is Shandon Baptiste, who has been given the weekend off before starting full-time training next week after working overtime through the summer to recover from knee surgery.

Sunderland will be without captain George Honeyman, with the midfielder on the verge of a move to Championship side Hull City.

Aiden McGeady, Chris Maguire and Duncan Watmore have proved their fitness, but Charlie Wyke (ankle) is set to miss out.


Sunderland: from J McLaughlin, C McLaughlin, Hume, Willis, Flanagan, Leadbitter, Kimpioka, McGeouch, Grigg, Embleton, Gooch, Dobson, McNulty, Power, O’Nien, McGeady, Maguire, Watmore.

Oxford Utd: from Eastwood, Cadden, Dickie, Mousinho, Ruffels, Gorrin, Brannagan, Napa, Henry, Fosu, Mackie, Moore, Woodburn, Forde, Sykes, Hall, Long, Hanson, McMahon, Stevens, Lopes, Lofthouse.

l Karl Robinson column: P30