Oxford take the victory on penalties against a resilient Portsmouth side to secure a Play Off Final spot at Wembley Stadium.

Portsmouth took the lead just before half time through a low strike from Marcus Harness, giving the away side the lead on the night. An own goal by Ellis Harrison levelled the tie just before half time. The game went all the way to penalties, and it was Cameron Brannagan who stepped up to score the winning penalty, with Cameron McGeehan being the only man to miss.

With the game being played only three days after the first leg, both Oxford and Portsmouth made changes to their starting line-up. Steve Seddon, Ryan Williams and Luke Bolton came in for Pompey, whilst Jamie Mackie and Mark Sykes lined up for Oxford in this game.

Two teams that were perfectly matched in the first leg were looking to start very brightly in this second leg, with a date at Wembley the icing on the cake, and it was the home side who started the brightest with a few early testers from James Henry swung into the box, but they were well handled by the ever-reliable Sean Raggett and Christian Burgess.

A poor throw in from Portsmouth led to the first chance of the game, but Jamie Mackie couldn’t slip the ball past goalkeeper Alex Bass who held on comfortably in the second minute. Mackie hadn’t scored in 32 games before he stepped on the pitch today, but early on he was looking bright and alive.

We had to wait until the 18thminute of the game for the next meaningful chance, at it was for the away side this time as a lovely Ryan Williams cross was headed just wide by Ellis Harrison under pressure from Oxford captain Rob Dickie.

The drinks break arrived at the right time with neither side looking like scoring, with both teams afraid to make an attacking move in fear of conceding a goal.

The best chance of the first half fell to Ellis Harrison in the 36thminute, with a wonderful move from the visitors resulting in a low and hard cross from Williams, which Ellis Harrison was unable to turn home after a brilliant save from the Oxford ‘keeper Simon Eastwood.

That chance opened the game up, and straight from the resulting corner for Portsmouth, Oxford launched a counter attack of their own but Marcus Browne couldn’t get his shot past Bass.

I said the game was end-to-end, and straight down the other end went Portsmouth, and the long ball fell for Marcus Harness and he squeezed the ball past Simon Eastwood and into the back of the net. A vital goal for Portsmouth in this tie.

Just on half time, Oxford got the equalising goal. It was a James Henry that looked like an easy catch for the ‘keeper Alex Bass, but Ellis Harrison seemed to bump the keeper and head it across his own line. Sean Raggett slashed the ball away but the referee signalled a goal after the goal-line technology system believed it to have gone in.

With the game in between periods, and the tie levelled up once again at 1-1, it was all to play for in the second half. Who was going to come out on top? Oxford enjoyed more of the ball, playing it around nicely and looked dangerous after they went behind, whereas Jackett’s hoof ball tactics caused havoc for the opening goal, but that was there only chance as they kept losing it in the attacking third.

The second half began in the same way as the first, with neither side taking the initiative, with Elliott Moore’s speculative header was the only attack on goal in the first 10 minutes.

The game needed a bit of energy to make it feel like a play-off match and not a relegation battle, with Sam Long seeing yellow after a tussle with Ronan Curtis, who kicked out at the full back but avoided a caution. Two minutes after his substitution, John Marquis also picked up a booking for an elbow in the face of Rob Dickie.

We had not seen much in the way of attacking chances in the second half, but out of nowhere it was nearly 2-1 Portsmouth. Curtis’ looping cross to the back post was headed back by Marquis but it struck the near post rather than falling into the net. Oh so close to giving the away side the lead.

As the minutes ticked by, Oxford looked like the side that would sneak a late game in this tie, but Rob Dickie couldn’t head home his unmarked header from a very late Oxford corner, meaning the game went into extra time.

With an extra 30 minutes of play needed, both sides were looking for someone to step up and take the game to the other team.

In the second however, the game began to be more open. John Marquis probably should have done better from a Portsmouth short corner, but the Oxford defence did enough to make the header difficult for him. Down the other end, Anthony Forde’s searching cross just avoided Dan Agyei at the back post.

There was almost a calamity near the end of the game, as Simon Eastwood’s attempted clearance cannoned of Ollie Hawkins but fortunately for him it trickled well wide of the goal. And that was the last clear chance of the game, and the match was headed to penalties.

Pompey stepped up first, with John Marquis sliding the ball into the corner. Late sub Ben Woodman was next, and he confidently dispatched the penalty with his first touch of the ball. Gareth Evans up for Pompey, slammed home into the corner. Anthony Forde for Oxford, inch perfect in the bottom corner. Lee Brown for Pompey, low and hard down the middle. Matty Taylor for Oxford, powerful strike into the top corner. 6 perfect penalties in a row. Cameron McGeehan for Pompey, BUT ITS SAVED BY SIMON EASTWOOD! John Mousinho for Oxford, and he smashes it home for the U’s.

The all-important penalty up next for Portsmouth, as Ollie Hawkins calmly places it into the far corner. If Oxford scored their next penalty, they take themselves to Wembley. It was Cameron Brannagan who stepped up, AND THE INCH PERFECT PENALTY TO SEND OXFORD TO WEMBLEY!

 

Oxford (4-3-3): Eastwood, Long (Woodburn 119), Moore, Dickie ©, Ruffels, Brannagan, Gorrin (Mousinho 119), Browne (Agyei 85), Sykes (Hanson 85), Mackie (Taylor 62), Henry (Forde 100).

Unused Subs: Stevens, Atkinson, Kelly.

Portsmouth (4-2-3-1):Bass, Bolton (Evans 120), Burgess ©, Raggett, Seddon (Brown 60), McGeehan, Morris, Williams (Hawkins 113), Harness (Cannon 80), Curtis, Harrison (Marquis 60).

Unused Subs:MacGillivray, Naylor, Downing, McCrorie.

 

 

Player Ratings

 

Oxford

Simon Eastwood: Besides the nervy mistake in the final few minutes, Eastwood didn’t have much to do in the game for Oxford. 6

Sam Long: My MOTM in this game. Handled Ronan Curtis much better than he did in the first leg, continuously getting the better of the winger and being a very good attacking outlet as well. 8

Elliott Moore: Composed performance against both marquis and Harrison, although he may have been lucky not giving away a penalty in the first half. 6

Rob Dickie ©: Another brilliant performance buy the central defender, as he kept tabs on Harrison and Marquis all game long and looked so good on the ball. 7

Josh Ruffels: Had some testers against Williams this afternoon, and although he lost a few he did make some important challenges on the winger. 6

Cameron Brannagan: A good performance from the young midfielder, and he was the man to step up and smash home the winning penalty as well. 7

Alex Gorrin: Composed in the middle and probably made the most passes in the match. Rash tackle in the second half aside, it was a good performance from the Spaniard. 6

Marcus Browne: Didn’t perform to the expectation of him, as he was brilliantly marked all game long by James Bolton at right back. 6

Mark Sykes: Had a few dangerous runs but didn’t have as much of an impact as he would have liked against Seddon and Brown. 6

Jamie Mackie: Constant menace up against the Portsmouth back line, didn’t let them settle at any point. Had a decent attempt on goal in the first minute of the game but struggled for power in that attempt. 6

James Henry: Some brilliant deliveries into the box from James Henry in this game, including the in swinger that caused the Oxford goal. Couple of long-range shots flying over as well. 6

 

Subs

Matty Taylor: Had a few enticing runs up against the Pompey defence, and nearly struck the winner in extra time but it was blocked well. 6

Dan Agyei: Looked the most dangerous substitute in the game by far, with his direct running causes havoc for Lee Brown and Sean Raggett. Should have been awarded a penalty late in the game. 7

Jamie Hanson: Few good passes in midfield but didn’t do too much to write home about in the game.6

Anthony Forde: Few good runs on the left hand side, with his searching cross late in extra time deserving of a final touch. 6 

Ben Woodburn: Not enough time to judge.

John Mousinho: Not enough time to judge.

 

Portsmouth

Alex Bass: Was unfortunate in his attempt to save the corner that led to the goal, but other than that he didn’t have too much to do in the match. 6 

James Bolton: Probably Portsmouth best player in the match as well. Handled Browne with ease on the right and looked much more comfortable compared to McCrorie in the first leg. 7

Christian Burgess ©: Seemed to handle Jamie Mackie well enough in the first 60 minutes of the game. Was dealt a few problems by Taylor but overall it was an assured performance from the Pompey captain. 7

Sean Raggett: Another good defensive performance from a Pompey defender, as the Norwich loanee handled the Oxford attackers well throughout the game. One or two small errors on the ball. 7

Steve Seddon: A good performance from the youngster on the left, getting up and supporting Curtis when he could. A few little challenges against Sykes probably should have resulted in a yellow. 6

Cameron McGeehan: Few rough challenges in the game by the young midfielder but he put himself about to cause havoc in the midfield, and did just that. 6

Bryn Morris: Two good games for the midfielder after his long injury absence of 14 months. 6 

Ryan Williams: Williams’ direct running caused a few problems for Ruffels down the right, with his trickery and pace being Portsmouth best outlet in this game. 7

Marcus Harness: Took his goal really well surrounded by a few defenders, and looked more prolific playing inside than he did on the wing. 7 

Ronan Curtis: Struggled up against Sam Long this time around, and wasn’t afforded as much time on the ball as he would have liked. Few long rangers soaring over the bar as well. 6

Ellis Harrison: Fully isolated up front all game long, and struggled to hold up the ball against Dickie and Moore. Was at fault for Oxford’s goal as he should have left the ball to his keeper. 5

 

Subs

Lee Brown: Lucky to avoid giving away a penalty in the last minute of normal time with a clear shirt pull on Agyei, but survived some poor officiating. 6

John Marquis: Could have scored the winner midway through the first half, but his header cannoned off the post. 6

Andy Cannon: Midfielder who didn’t have as much of an impact that Harness had earlier in the game. 6

Ollie Hawkins: Had only one chance in the game when the ball cannoned off him but went well wide after the mistake by Eastwood. 6

Gareth Evans: Not enough time to judge.

featured image credit sky sports