TO CRAWL into bed just before one on Wednesday morning, rather than nearer three, was an unexpected bonus.

But that’s as full as my mug of cocoa is going to get. What a real Horlicks of a night Oxford was!

For the players and, in particular, the 90 hardy souls in the away stand, it was a complete and utter waste of time, effort and money.

The club, at least, will get their travel expenses covered by the home side because of the late postponement.

But the fans who braved the freezing fog on the motorway journey back north afterwards don’t get the same luxury.

Of course it was the right decision to call it off. The pitch was like concrete in places and the risk of injury would have been ridiculously high.

In a week when Hull player Ryan Mason suffered a fractured skull, player safety is rightly high on the agenda. Referee Dean Whitestone made the only choice.

But it’s the timing of his decision that sticks in the craw.

The official had arrived two hours before kick-off and taken a cursory glance at the surface.

The area of real trouble, the strip in front of the technical zone, was “firm but playable” in his eyes. I think plenty beg to differ.

City’s management team had a prod around 15 minutes later and sensed then that it would be trouble.

Stuart McCall didn’t want to put any demons in the heads of his team by saying anything in the dressing room.

Nor did his assistant Kenny Black when he handed in the team sheet with an equally poker-faced Oxford boss Michael Appleton.

Nobody shows public weakness in football, so both passed the line-ups to Whitestone with a customary nod and no more. But they knew and so did the players.

The pre-match warm-ups were on the tentative side, both teams occasionally glancing across with a knowing look and sensing the mutual mistrust of a surface getting harder by the minute. So what took Whitestone so long?

The pitch had already survived two previous inspections – and when one is held the day before a game, it usually suggests the outcome will not be a positive one.

But surely, given the dropping temperature and forecast of another heavy frost, the decision to postpone should have been announced significantly earlier than eight minutes before kick-off.

McCall’s caustic comment that “it’s not as if the sun was going to come out” summed up the mood of a further 90 minutes wasted when we could have all been battling back on the M40.

That journey awaits once more on Tuesday for the Kassam Stadium sequel. The Checkatrade Trophy is becoming the competition that refuses to die.

Oh, for the ‘halcyon’ days of the Johnstone’s Paint, when defeat in the first week of September meant no more involvement. Now you can lose three times and you’re still not out of it before the clocks change.

The Checkatrade has been slated for the introduction of under-21/under-23 teams (notice how that changed between group games one and two) from the higher divisions. Those who could be bothered anyway.

But surely the biggest boo-boo was the idea of deregionalising the later rounds.

At least before, the country would be divided in half, with the north and south ‘winners’ meeting in the Wembley final.

All well and good, even if some of the geography was a bit suspect – Cheltenham and Cambridge never struck me as traditional northern outposts.

But why make it an open draw from the last 16 onwards?

A late call-off at somewhere like Mansfield or Hartlepool would be frustrating – but at least you’d be spared a long haul home.

By the time City get back from Oxford part two, they will have travelled nearly 1,200 miles in just over a fortnight in a tournament that many won’t cross the road to watch.

Then there’s the prospect for the winner of a semi-final at either Luton … or Yeovil.

One fan helpfully pointed out on Twitter that it is a 544-mile round trip to Huish Park. Barnsley, last season’s winners, travelled 31 miles less in total.

If City do get to Wembley – and they are still only two wins away – they’ll have taken the long route.