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Will Bolton or Oxford United win the League One Playoff Final?

The League One season has finished, the semi finals of the playoffs have been played, and it all comes down to this. One game, on the 18th May, to decide the outcome of an entire season of hard work and good performances. Who will be the victor and taste Championship football next season, and who will be forced to spend another season in League One?

Bolton got away with one in their tie against Barnsley. After a commanding 3-1 win away from home in the first leg, all they had to do was put on a comfortable display against a managerless Barnsley side, but it was anything but that.

Barnsley took the lead on the night, reducing Bolton’s deficit to 3-2, with Sam Cosgrove scoring the first goal of the game. A huge turnaround before half time, thanks to goals from Aaron Collins and Eoin Toal, put Bolton ahead on the night, and even further ahead on aggregate going into half time.

But, the second half became an absolute horror show for Bolton, and on another day, could have proved costly. Adam Phillips gave the visitors a lifeline, making it 5-3 on aggregate with 25 minutes left to play, and 12 minutes later, Sam Cosgrove set up a grandstand finish, making it 5-4.

There were plenty of chances for Barnsley to equalise, coming agonisingly close on more than one occasion, spurning the chance to level the tie and take it to extra time. Bolton managed to hold on, and ran down the clock in the closing stages, securing their place in the playoff final.

Ian Evatt will not be entirely unhappy with the performance. They fought off a spirited comeback, and despite some mistakes in defence, looked solid throughout the game. Their lack of creativity is what may concern Evatt, however, as Bolton struggled to play out of Oxford’s high press, and surrendered possession high up the pitch on multiple occasions throughout the game.

As for the other semi final, many were shocked to see Oxford United progress over Peterborough. With a slender 1-0 home win in the first leg, Oxford had to travel to Peterborough knowing they had to be perfect to progress, and they were.

There were many complaints about Oxford’s style of football in that second leg, as they looked to run the clock down from the very first minute, committing tactical fouls to stop Peterborough from finding any rhythm, but it was certainly effective.

It was a game of few chances for Oxford United, registering just the one shot on target, but this was all part of the plan, sit tight and compact, and take any chances that fall to them.

It took a while in the game for any goalmouth action, but Josh Knight forced the ball home for the home side just 4 minutes before half time, to give Peterborough the boost they needed to get going in the game.

But that was short-lived. A Brannigan free kick on the edge of the box was deemed to have hit a Peterborough defender on the arm, and Brannigan dispatched the spot kick to level the score on the night, and put Oxford back in front on aggregate.

The second half went as many predicted, Peterborough pushing forward for another equaliser, whilst Oxford sat back and soaked up the pressure, and, surprisingly, Peterborough failed to find the back of the net again, despite registering 8 shots on target.

So, that sets up the final between Bolton and Oxford United, but who will come out on top and win promotion to the Championship? Let’s see how they fared against each other this season.

The first fixture between the two sides actually saw Des Buckingham manage Oxford United for the first time, welcoming a table topping Bolton to the Kassam Stadium.

It was a game that saw neither side break the deadlock, in what turned out to be an uninspiring goalless draw, that saw Bolton record a 7th straight clean sheet in all competitions.

It turned out to be a good point for Oxford United, and Buckingham will have been pleased to draw against the then league leaders.

The reverse fixture could not have been any different. In a completely one sided game, Bolton restricted Oxford United to 0 shots on target at The Toughsheet Community Stadium whilst putting 5 goals past their promotion rivals.

Nathanael Ogbeta, the Swansea loanee, opened the scoring after just 19 minutes to give the home side the lead, and it did not take long for them to make it 2, with Josh Dacres-Cogley doubling their advantage 8 minutes later.

The floodgates opened in the second half, as George Thomason made it 3-0 with just over half an hour of football left to play, before another two goals in the next ten minutes, with Aaron Collins and Josh Sheehan completing the rout.

It was a brilliant, complete display from Bolton, who brushed aside their rivals with ease, and they will take confidence from this result going into the final.

As for the final itself, anything can happen in a one off game of football, especially at Wembley, in front of thousands of supports, live on Sky Sports.

Oxford United will be the underdogs going into this, but that will suit them perfectly. They have dangerous players in their ranks, with the likes of Josh Murphy capable of sprinting a counter attack with his pace and skill.

Cameron Brannigan is another to look out for. He is Mr League One, and this could be his best chance of Championship football. His goals are vital for Oxford, and the midfielder will certainly be looking to get on the scoresheet again here.

Bolton are, obviously, dangerous as well. Their strike force is capable of breaking down any defence, and Ian Evatt will want them to attack this game from the get go.

It is a game that could truly go either way, but if Bolton turn up like they did in the home game against Oxford, or in the first leg against Barnsley, then Oxford could be in for a very long afternoon.

It will be a tight and cagey affair to start with, neither side will want to expose themselves too much so early on with what is at stake, but Bolton should be too strong here, and they should be the ones to lift the trophy after the full time whistle.

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