Oxford United boss Michael Appleton admitted his side looked like a five-a-side team as Blackburn Rovers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners from Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round clash at the Kassam Stadium.
The 40-year-old, who used to manage the Championship opponents back in 2013, says his group of giant killers that knocked out Premier League outfit Swansea City in the previous round were simply outclassed and overpowered by the better team on the day.
“No it wasn’t [ever going to be easy] and rightly so because it is a fantastic cup competition and anything can happen on the day,” he said.
“We came across a real strong outfit today and it was Blackburn, who at times, outmuscled us.
“I said to the players at the end of the game, and certainly at half time, you have got to earn the right to play. I just felt in the first 20 to 25 minutes that we almost played a little bit like a five-a-side team.
“Our passing was too short. There were opportunities to get their defenders turning back towards their own goal and we probably just got caught up a little bit in the occasion at times.
“The biggest disappointment was that we played a part in all of their goals. They didn’t really open us up.”
Strikes from Ben Marshall either side of half-time; plus a low drive from debutant Tony Watt, saw the visitors breeze into the fifth-round of the competition, with the forthcoming ties being drawn live on BBC One from 18:20pm on Sunday evening.
But despite their FA Cup journey coming to a crashing halt yesterday; the U’s have a quick turnaround as Appleton could still guide his side to cup success at Wembley Stadium this season with an appearance in April’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.
Oxford will return to the Kassam on Tuesday to host League One Millwall in the second-leg of their Area Final after their encouraging 2-0 first-leg victory at The Den earlier this month.
“There is no disgrace that we are going out of the FA Cup,” stressed Appleton.
“I can ensure you tomorrow morning that we won’t be thinking about this game.
“We are having a fantastic time so far this year, there is no doubt about that. But we are where we are for a reason.
“We strive to improve all the time. We have come up a little short today; there is no doubt about it, but again the games come thick and fast. We have got a great opportunity to try and amend that on Tuesday.”
The former Manchester United youth graduate; who is enjoying his longest managerial spell to date with Oxford having arrived at the League Two side over 18 months ago, was also keen to point out the club’s main goal this campaign is promotion from the bottom-tier of English football come May.
“You want to stay in competitions for as long as you possibly can, but the reality is that we can’t win this competition”, added Appleton.
“Our main priority this year is the league. We have had a fantastic run in the FA Cup; we have had some great memories, but it had to end at some point.
“If it had to be today to help us achieve what we really want to achieve then great.”