MICHAEL Appleton has opened up about the dressing room conversation that ‘scared the life’ out of him after arguably his darkest day as Oxford United boss.

The former U’s manager took current side Lincoln City to Cambridge United on Saturday, coming away with a 5-1 win.

Until now, that scoreline at the Abbey Stadium had only brought bad memories for Appleton.

His first visit to Cambridge as United boss came in October 2014, having taken over that summer.

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The U’s lost 5-1 live on Sky Sports to slip to second bottom of the Football League and the post-match conversation with his players proved to Appleton change was needed – and fast.

“When you go in as a manager and you know you have to make changes, it’s how quickly you make those changes,” he told Lincolnshire Live.

“You’re trying to give players who are at the club opportunities.

“We lost heavily. I asked a question (of the players) after the game that I probably shouldn’t have asked because when I got the answer, it scared the life out of me.

“Then I had to go and do an interview with the Sky cameras a few minutes later.

“I think I was still a bit shocked about the conversation I’d had in the dressing room.

“That always sticks out as a big moment because, within two or three weeks, we’d completely dismantled the squad.

“I had to do things a little bit quicker than I thought we were going to do.”

Appleton would not go into specifics about the ‘answer’ he received from his players, but added: “Put it this way, there weren’t enough players on the same hymn sheet as I was, so things had to be done.”

Appleton had already brought in several new faces since arriving that July, but that defeat spelt the end for many players.

Winger Junior Brown made just one more late substitute appearance, at Grimsby Town in the Emirates FA Cup, before he was loaned to Mansfield Town a month later.

Tom Newey exited even sooner – the left back did not play another U’s game and moved to Northampton Town on loan at the end of October.

Both players left permanently the following January, as did centre back Michael Raynes, who moved to Mansfield and also did not play again for United after Cambridge.

Midfielder Brian Howard made just three more U’s appearances before joining National League Eastleigh in the winter transfer window.

It was a tough first season for Appleton and United were still only three points clear of the relegation zone before they beat Mansfield 3-0 on February 21.

They finished the season 13th and the manager’s next two campaigns could barely have gone better, as the U’s were promoted from League Two, reached two EFL Trophy finals and beat several higher-division sides in the cup competitions.

“At the end of the day, from January onwards, I think we had one defeat in 20 games," Appleton added.

“Then the two seasons following that were really successful.

“Sometimes you have to have those moments that are difficult and hard.

“You’ve got to dig in and be resilient.”

United at Cambridge: Clarke, Riley, Raynes, Mullins, Newey, Collins (Roberts 85), Rose, Brown (Jakubiak 69), Howard (Whing 57), O’Dowda, Hylton.

Unused subs: G Long, S Long, Ruffels, Morris.