A GENUINE win-win situation is rare in football, but Oxford United’s link with a non-league side this season has been a big hit.

While their clubmates prepare for Bristol Rovers’ visit to the Kassam Stadium tomorrow, Sam Long and Shandon Baptiste are gearing up to face Whitehawk.

The pair have been part of a success story at Hampton & Richmond Borough, who have climbed from Vanarama National South relegation candidates to title contenders.

The connection with United, which has also seen goalkeeper Manny Agboola spend time with the Beavers, began with Malachi Napa’s loan in August.

A 21-game unbeaten run began the following week – and only ended last Saturday.

Hampton boss Alan Dowson said: “The good thing about getting players from Oxford is they come and they’re good lads to have around the place.

“They don’t come in with a big-time attitude, they are one of us.

“It has helped us get up to second in the league.

“They have played a massive part in that, and it’s our job to get them some game time.

“If we can help in a small way that’s fantastic and we really appreciate the link.”

With no under 23 side at United, the arrangement with Hampton has proved useful.

U’s caretaker manager Derek Fazackerley said: “They’ve all gained from it, particularly Sam Long, who has not played any football for 18 months.

“The good thing about sending them to that level is you can bring them back into the fold after 28 days.

“The relationship we’ve had is very good and they’ve had an excellent season.

“It’s been helped by the players we’ve given to them, but it’s helped us as well.”

Napa is a prime example of the benefits such loans can have, with the 18-year-old now regularly in the U’s first team.

The winger said: “No matter what league it is, in men’s football everyone is physical and you have to think faster because they’re more experienced.

“I think it was needed as a wake-up call.

“Whether you think you’re good enough to play straight away, sometimes you need that experience to understand what you’re going to be facing.”