Event: EFL League One Play Off Semi Final 1stLeg – Portsmouth vs Oxford Utd
Date: Friday 3rdJuly 2020
It will be exactly 115 days on Friday the 3rd of July since Fratton Park last hosted a football match, a 2-2 draw against fellow play off side Fleetwood was the outcome. Now both Portsmouth and Oxford stand two games away from reaching the coveted Wembley turf, with one booking a ticket to London, whilst the other prepares for another season in League One.
- In the Blue Corner
Portsmouth are seen by many as one of the ‘big boys’ in the third tier of English Football, with the ex-Premier League outfit looking for a route back in the right direction. This is their 3rd consecutive season in the league, and they’ll be hoping it’s their last.
Pompey were promoted League One in 2017 as champions of the fourth tier. Since then, they have moulded themselves into one of the league’s best outfits, consistently fighting for the play offs each season. Season one brought a respectable 8th placed finish for the south coast side, and last season they went one step further, having already had a Wembley trip in their pocket from the EFL Trophy clash with Sunderland, and even went home with the trophy.
It was in fact Sunderland standing between them and another Wembley trip last year, but they couldn’t break the Mackem’s down and fell to a 1-0 aggregate defeat. This year they look to right the wrongs of last season with a two-legged affair with Oxford United, and will be looking to use their home advantage in the first leg. 18 home games with 0 defeats in the league, Kenny Jackett will surely be looking to this first tie to snatch an early lead going into the pivotal second leg.
- The Gaffer
Very recently Kenny Jackett spoke about ‘ending Portsmouth’s play-off voodoo.’ 6 games; 3 draws and 3 defeats, a ghastly record for any side looking for promotion. The man himself does have experience of play off success, and play off hardship, a sickening defeat to Sunderland last year with Portsmouth, a near shock upset with Swansea City in 2007 against Barnsley, and a 3-2 goal fest defeat as Millwall manager against Scunthorpe in 2008.
However, he does know how to win the big one, as a year later, he guided Millwall into the Championship with a 1-0 win over Swindon at Wembley. Kenny Jackett has, from the outside, done a fantastic job with this Portmouth team, and he will be looking to add another piece of silverware to his CV.
- The Star Men
Of course, it is not just the manager who needs to be on top form on Friday, but the players as well. Craig MacGillivray and Alex Bass have shared the keeper jersey this season, collating 13 clean sheets between the two in the league.
Christian Burgess played 32 of the 35 league games this season, notching three goals in a pivotal season for the Englishman. Pompey will need his aerial threat and leadership quality over the two legs. Captain Tom Naylor has made the most league appearances for Pompey this season with 33, and the 28-year-old will be chomping at the bit to right the wrongs of last season.
Going forward is where Pompey shine, 57 goals shared between seven attackers is a monumental feat for any side. Having that much ammunition in your back pocket could be key for Portsmouth with the introduction of five subs instead of the usual three. Ronan Curtis has taken the plaudits in the league, but don’t discount Marcus Harness, John Marquis and Ellis Harrison from making a statement.
- The Yellow Corner
In every football game there are two teams making their way out onto the pitch, and travelling down to Portsmouth for what should be an exciting first leg is Oxford United. This is Oxford’s fourth consecutive season in League One and the first time they have ventured into the play offs in those four years.
One of the many surprises of the League One season was seeing Oxford dance their way into play-off contention right from the off, and they have not looked back. It’s been a season of way more ups than downs, with FA Cup ties with Newcastle and Carabao Cup adventures against Manchester City, a trip to Wembley would be the icing on the cake for the U’s.
In previous years, they’ve been settling for mid table obscurity, in no danger of relegation but being slightly too far from the action. The blossoming relationship between the fans and the players has all been made possible by head coach Karl Robinson, who at one point was being considered for the Malaga job!
- The Gaffer
Karl Robinson is one of the youngest managers in League One, but it feels like he’s been around for longer than that. At the age of 29, he was handed the keys to MK Dons from Paul Ince, and even found himself in the dizzy heights of the League One play offs, but fell to Peterborough in the 2009/2010 season.
A year later he was back in the play offs, but again couldn’t make it past the first round losing to Huddersfield over two legs. Eventually, in 2014, Robinson overcome the burden of League One by masterminding an astonishing second place finish with MK Dons.
His time with the Dons ended in 2016, as he traded MK for Charlton and spent two years in League One, a move to Oxford followed and he has been there ever since, slowly biding his time before launching an impressive assault on the league. Two managers who know the pain of the play offs, but both have proven they have what it takes to get into the Championship.
- The Star Men
Oxford’s strength this season was their consistently, with two of their defenders playing every league game this season. Rob Dickie and Josh Ruffels formed an impressive half of a solid backline all season long.
A player like James Henry just oozes quality in League One, with the club’s top scorer from the 2018/19 season once again proving that age is just a number as he notched 14 goals this season. Only bettered by summer signing Matty Taylor, on loan from Bristol City, as the hometown boy smashing in 17 goals as Oxford finished the season as the leagues second top goalscorer, level par with Rotherham and only behind Peterborough.
If the away side can utilise Henry and Taylor like they have all season long, then it could be a very interesting first leg at Fratton Park.
- The Verdict
If this game was played a week or two after the ‘last’ round of fixtures in League One, I would have put a house on there being goals in this game.
Both sides love to score, and have the attacking force to take it to the other, however, with no football for 100+ days, it will take some time for the dust to be unsettled and the cobwebs to be erased from the footballing capabilities of both sides.
It’ll be a blink first and you’ve got a problem kind of game for me, so I’m sticking my neck out with a 1-0 home win for Pompey.
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