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Oxford United Stun Bolton To Claim Championship Spot

After two thrilling sets of playoff semi-finals, the grand stage was set. Bolton Wanderers taking on Oxford United. The winner earning a spot in the 24-25 Championship season, and the loser resigned to another season in League One.

Bolton came into this game as heavy favourites, especially considering Peterborough had been knocked out in the semi-finals by their opponents. Nobody gave Oxford a chance, especially after losing 5-0 to Bolton just a few match weeks ago.

Many expected the game to follow the same pattern. Bolton have looked strong in recent weeks, especially in their doubleheader against Barnsley that got them to the final, whereas Oxford United snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the season, and edged out Peterborough by a single goal in the semi-final.

Both teams came into this game full of confidence, and just 90 minutes away from securing promotion to The Championship, but how did the game pan out?

It was a massive shock to most people watching to see Oxford United run out comfortable 2-0 winners, especially with Bolton playing so poorly throughout the game.

The favourites struggled to get going as Des Buckingham’s side deployed their tactics perfectly, restricting Bolton’s attack-minded approach, and letting them have meaningless possession in the middle of the park.

It completely contrasted what we had seen in the league just a few weeks prior. Oxford United were defensively sound, and looking exciting when going forward, with Josh Murphy and Owen Dale looking to get forward at every opportunity.

Even defensively they were much improved, staying compact when Bolton did come forward, and ended up restricting them to 0 shots in target, which is a fantastic achievement in its own, especially in a playoff final.

With Oxford United doing so well defensively, all they had to do was find the back of the net, and they managed to do all the damage in the first half. A Josh Murphy brace late in the first half was enough to secure the win.

His first was a brilliant solo effort. After receiving the ball on the left flank, he looked to cut inside just on the edge of the box, and a lucky deflection brought the ball back to him, before he curled it in beautifully, albeit after a big deflection from Bolton’s Santos, to give Oxford the lead.

The second goal was just as brilliantly crafted. 11 minutes later, Ruben Rodrigues produced a brilliant first touch to pluck the ball out of the air, before lifting it over the Bolton back line for Murphy to run onto. His first touch with his right foot took the ball around the keeper before cooly slotting home to extend Oxford United’s lead.

That was all it took for Oxford United. The second half was just as comfortable as the first, with the only worrying coming when star man Cameron Brannigan came off with a knock, but, Oxford remained resolute and saw the game out, securing victory and promotion, and ending their 25-year wait for Championship football.

Ian Evatt, after the game, labelled the performance as Bolton’s worst of the season, and that at times they were unrecognisable, and it now means that Bolton have failed to gain promotion from the playoffs for the last two seasons, after being knocked out in the semi-finals last season.

Another season in League One beckons for Bolton then, and it will be interesting to see which players leave and which ones stay, and whether Evatt will end up being approached for another job. It will be interesting to see how they do next season in League One.

As for Oxford United, they will finally taste Championship football again, and their main aim will be to stay in the division. Des Buckingham got them over the line, just, and it will be interesting to see how long he manages to keep his job if things go poorly next season.

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