The talk in the Rotherham United camp ahead of this game was about building momentum.
But, in Oxford United, the Millers came up against a side with more momentum than them – and it showed as they ran out 2-1 winners.
Something had to give at the New York Stadium. Paul Warne’s men had won their last three games in all competitions but Oxford arrived in South Yorkshire in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten sequence.
Karl Robinson’s side were good value for the points. They not only looked high on confidence but were streetwise enough to execute their game plan and strong enough to withstand the Millers’ spirited effort.
Rotherham had recovered from falling behind to a superb strike from the dangerous Tarique Fosu-Henry and then, as Oxford went in for the kill, did well to stay in the game at 2-1 down.
But they lacked the necessary quality on the ball and in attacking areas to prevent their first home defeat in the league since losing to Lincoln on the second weekend of the season.
A congested midfield led to a key battle in that area and it was eventually won by the experience of James Henry and exuberance of Cameron Brannagan.
A slow-starting first half was memorable for a moment of individual brilliance, a moment of bravery and a big non-decision from referee Scott Oldham sandwiched in between.
The Millers had been more pro-active during a subdued opening quarter with the visitors seemingly set up to play on the counter.
But it was Oxford who broke the deadlock after 23 minutes when the impressive Brannagan dispossessed Matt Olosunde and laid it square to Fosu-Henry who brilliantly smashed home from outside the area.
Jake Hastie almost levelled immediately but, after finding himself in space in the box, saw his effort cleared off the line by covering right back Chris Cadden, who responded sheepishly to claims he had used his hand in the process.
Daniel Iversen made a vital save to deny Brannagan from point blank range on the half hour and from the resultant corner John Mousinho really ought to have kept his header down.
Within five minutes the home side were back on terms.
Michael Ihiekwe started and finished the move, bringing the ball out of defence before continuing his run into the box. Matt Crooks got his head to Michael Smith’s cross and Ihiekwe bravely rose highest to head home, taking a whack from goalkeeper Simon Eastwood in the process.
Rotherham ended the half on top and looked well placed to push on but it was Oxford who moved through the gears in the second half
They re-took the lead on 57 minutes when Brannagan’s perfect cross was headed home by Matty Taylor – and the Millers were suddenly on the ropes.
Brannagan broke clear and only a goal-saving tackle from Jamie Lindsay prevented a third.
Iversen then made a sensational reaction save to keep out Taylor from close range and Mousinho saw a shot deflected just over.
Rotherham held firm and Chiedozie Ogbene, Carlton Morris and Julien Lamy were all introduced as they searched for a way back into the game.
Olosunde saw a deflected effort saved by Eastwood at the death but Oxford held firm for a seventh win in 11 games. They’ve got momentum.