IT WAS reassuringly chilly at the top of the Kassam Stadium’s South Stand Upper yesterday, because not much else was familiar.

Oxford United were back on home turf, but not as we know it.

In preparation for their Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final with Portsmouth, Karl Robinson scheduled an intra-squad game.

Designed to replicate conditions for the all-important second leg a week today, it gave the players a chance to find their bearings.

Kick-off was at the same time as it will be next Monday, while the ‘away’ team were set up to play like Pompey and last season’s away kit was used to mimic their blue shirts.

There were even announcements over the PA system, which may have been what attracted a couple of passers-by walking through the car park.

They got a glimpse through the gate, but anyone trying the same in the real game will not be allowed anywhere near as close.

Also read: Oxford United boss encouraged by final warm-up before Pompey

The same can be said for most of those who are supposed to be in the stadium next week.

With the building split into zones, security is high to minimise any risks of contamination.

Banbury Cake:

No chances are being taken, as shown at half-time when a member of the groundstaff emerged at each end to disinfect the goalposts.

The line-up gave clues as to Robinson’s plans ahead of the trip to Fratton Park, but with United keen to keep their cards close to their chest, we are sworn to secrecy.

Even watching from up on high, though, it was clear this was no friendly kickabout.

The intensity was surprisingly high and one benefit – probably the only one – of the empty stands was an ability to hear what was said.

Robinson was typically vocal and set the tone as he prowled the touchline, barking at players for not getting into the drinks break quickly enough in the first half.

Also read: Oxford United get all-clear on latest coronavirus tests

Getting details like that right could be crucial when things go live on Friday. The message was clear: every second counts.

It was also a chance for the club’s other departments to have a run through before one of the most important games in the stadium’s history.

Banbury Cake:

There had been an assumptionpost-match interviews could be held virtually via Zoom, but a trial run quickly showed it was unworkable.

An alternative plan was made instead, which worked after the game.

This was the time to make mistakes, on and off the field.

On Friday it all becomes real – and United have to be ready for anything.