First leg: Portsmouth 1-1 Oxford United
Portsmouth and Oxford United have just 90 minutes left to book their place in the League One playoff final as the sides played out an uninspiring 1-1 draw at Fratton Park on Friday night.
The hosts will be kicking themselves as they failed to capitalise on a very bright start. Oxford were left to absorb pressure as Pompey’s dangerous strike force enjoyed a great amount of position and fired a significant number of shots, albeit mostly off-target.
The breakthrough came shortly after the first-half drinks break when fan-favourite Irishman Ronan Curtis fired the home side in front on a devastating counterattack that saw United stretched. Simon Eastwood got a touch on the ball but there was little the 31-year-old could do as the sheer power off the strike ricocheted off his legs.
Loanee Marcus Browne earned the Us a level playing field going into their home leg with an exceptional solo goal on the brink of halftime. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, the youngster displayed his awesome pace as he beat Christian Burgess with ease before comfortably tucking the ball deep into the bottom-left corner, well beyond the stretched arms of Alex Bass.
For Portsmouth, the curse of the playoffs continue as the once-Premier League club has still never won a playoff tie. Oxford can breathe a sigh of relief as they defended particularly well and kept Pompey – who are unbeaten at home in League One this season – largely at bay.
Second leg: Oxford United 1-1 (2-2 agg.) Portsmouth, Oxford win 5-4 on pens.
Oxford United booked their place in the League One playoff final on Monday night following a 5-4 penalty shootout win against Portsmouth at the Kassam Stadium.
A top-drawer strike from Marcus Harness and a woeful defensive mix-up saw the two sides go into halftime level-pegging, but it was a penalty shootout which ultimately decided Pompey’s fate.
United started the much brighter of the two sides, in stark contrast to Friday night’s first leg. Although having less of the ball in the opening exchanges, the hosts were far more direct with their approach play and had even tested Portsmouth ‘keeper Alex Bass by the first-half drinks break.
Pompey had reached the penalty area on several occasions, but stubborn defending from Oxford’s youthful centre-back pairing shepherded the imminent threat away from goal through excellently-timed tackling.
It was the visitors who enjoyed the best chance of the first half when a fizzed cross ricocheted to the feet of Welsh striker Ellis Harrison just a matter of yards out with only ‘keeper Simon Eastwood in his path. The 26-year-old snatched at the chance and forced a wonderful save from Eastwood.
Very much against the run of play of the preceding 15 minutes, Pompey found the breakthrough shortly before the break when Englishman Harness caught Oxford’s defence napping and slotted a shot from distance into the bottom-left corner, leaving Eastwood wrong-footed and with little hope of pulling off a stop.
Right on the brink of half time, an in-swinging corner delivery from James Henry wreaked havoc in the Portsmouth’s penalty area and brought Oxford level when Harrison tangled with his goalkeeper, 22-year-old Bass, and turned the ball into his own net.
The remainder of the tie paled into insignificance, and it boiled down the harsh natures of a penalty shoot-out for a place at Wembley next week. Oxford looked well drilled, and comfortably tucked away each of their five spot kicks.
It was Cameron McGeehan who missed the crucial penalty that sentenced his side to another season in League One.