MATCH REPORT | Oxford United Seal Play-Off Spot

Oxford United sealed their spot in next weekend’s Sky Bet League One play-off semi-finals after securing a 2-1 victory over Exeter City.

The win alone wouldn’t have been enough as United relied on Lincoln City or Barnsley slipping up, and in the end they both dropped points to help Des Buckingham’s side into fifth place and a play-off place.

The win came through first-half goals from Mark Harris and Cameron Brannagan, and despite a second-half revival from the hosts, the U’s held on for the most important three points of the season to tee up a semi-final with Peterborough United.

Almost 1,200 Oxford fans made the long journey to Exeter and they came in hope and expectation, knowing if United bettered the result of Lincoln City or Barnsley they would be in the League One play-offs next weekend.

The first chance of the game came for the U’s and it almost provided an opening goal. Mark Harris and Ruben Rodrigues exchanged quick passes to set up the Portuguese attacker in the box and he steered a shot just wide from close range.

But just two minutes later Oxford would get the early goal they so desired through Harris. The Wales international forward made the goal for himself, pinching the ball off an Exeter defender near the halfway line before sprinting down on goal and cooly slotting beyond Vil Sinisalo.

Oxford were the dominant team in Exeter and almost doubled the lead on 20 minutes, but the goalkeeper made a stunning reaction stop to keep Ciaron Brown’s header from reaching the top left corner.

Brown had another decent chance seven minutes later from another Oxford set-piece, this time poking a shot on goal which Sinisalo held onto.

The hosts couldn’t handle the U’s attacking qualities and United would get the second goal their play deserved through the influential Cameron Brannagan from the penalty spot

Josh Murphy was the architect as he won the spot-kick, speeding down the left wing and winning a foul inside the box through his quick feet. Up stepped Brannagan on 40 minutes and the midfielder slammed his penalty into the bottom left corner to send the away end bouncing.

At half-time, Oxford were in command in the tie and also in the play-off position, as they sat in sixth with Lincoln City drawing at home to Portsmouth.

However, at the start of the second-half, Exeter City grabbed a goal back to make it 2-1. Millenic Alli was the goal scorer as he leapt highest from a corner to head into the net.

Oxford were trying to reclaim control of the game and Harris had a good opportunity to restore the two-goal lead on 63 minutes but the striker snatched at his shot just inside the box and dragged it wide.

Exeter came back at Oxford and Elliot Moore turned a cross onto the corner of the post and crossbar a few minutes later as United hands were in mouths.

But with 10 minutes to go, the biggest roar of the afternoon came from the away end as news filtered through that Portsmouth had scored against Lincoln City, and the play-off dreams looked that bit closer.

Exeter did go close to equalising with a few minutes left to play, but in the end, United held on for the vital three points, as the full-time whistle sparked wild celebrations and a meeting with Peterborough United once again.

The dream for Championship football next season remains alive.

Next Saturday the play-off journey begins at home to the Posh. Be there.

Attendance: 8,123, including 1,259 in the bouncing away end.

Report by Ryan Maher

Photos by Steve Daniels, Steve Edmunds, Darrell Fisher

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