Oxford beat Bolton in League One playoff final thanks to Murphy double

Revenge, as Oxford would swear, truly is a main course best dished out in front of a 30,000-strong ­yellow wall at Wembley, while contesting a Championship spot. Sixty-seven days might be footballing light years, but that Bolton swatted Des Buckingham’s team aside by five clear goals so recently did not bode well for Oxford. Yet the only point of clarity here was, courtesy of a pair of Josh Murphy goals, how deserving United were of victory.

Buckingham insists he has never rewatched that March defeat, but did use it to recalibrate. On Saturday, he implemented a plan that cackled in the face of Bolton’s “clear favourites” billing.

“This club means so much to so many people,” said a soaking Buckingham. “I’ve shared this moment, not just with the fans but with most of my family. Put it into words? I simply can’t.”

What a turnaround it has been for Oxford. A year ago they narrowly evaded League One’s trapdoor; now they have stepped up the second-tier ladder for the first time this millennium.

Buckingham’s November appointment has proved savvy. Oxford is his club, perhaps one of the few he would have left title challenges in Mumbai for. Footballing love is potent, you see, and Buckingham still owns the ticket stub from his first ever Oxford game at the old Manor Ground back in 1990.

Josh Murphy rounds Nathan Baxter for his and Oxford’s second. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/AMA/Getty Images

His grandmother accompanied him that day and, deep into stoppage time here, Buckingham glanced skyward to catch the gaze of the woman who introduced him to, perhaps even indoctrinated him, in Oxford.

Other United legends – the likes of Jim Smith, Joey Beauchamp, and Mickey Lewis – were present in soul and spirit, too. The latter coached and mentored Buckingham. Lewis’s guidance, before his untimely passing, has led his protege – via New Zealand, India and Australia – to the spot where he stood suited and smiling as the celebrations began.

Oxford simply stymied Bolton. Freedom? No. Space? No. Anything, just something? No. That Oxford repainted one of their training ground pitches to match the Wembley dimensions appeared to help – Buckingham’s players seemingly knew every blade of grass intimately. “It was as complete a performance as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said.

Murphy drew the first of many visceral, joyous Oxford roars just after the hour, his strike nicking off Ricardo Santos’s head to beat Nathan Baxter. The second came when Paris Maghoma dallied, and Rúben Rodrigues clipped an inch-perfect first-time pass to find a Murphy run of equal precision. The finish was met by delirium. Pure. Yellow. Joy.

Intriguingly, Liam Manning, Buckingham’s predecessor, did not fancy Murphy one iota and the winger did not start a league match until the pre-Christmas game of musical coaches. He has flourished since.

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His twin, Jacob, has become eminently meme-able at Newcastle in recent years, but, while Josh’s contributions doubtless went viral, he also carved himself into United history.

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Defeat might have meant the out-of-contract Murphy’s departure – persuading him to stay now feels achievable. “I said as much to him as he was lifting the trophy,” said Buckingham, grinning.

For Bolton, the disappointment will be bitter and enduring. Unless you count a flurry of frustrated bookings, they failed to land even a glancing blow. It was, as Ian Evatt accurately summarised, an “unrecognisable” and “baffling” performance. “There’s a lot of soul searching to be done.”

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