Oxford United promoted to the Sky Bet Championship after 25-year absence

Wembley-born Josh Murphy fired Oxford United back to the Sky Bet Championship for the first time in 25 years as he scored both goals in his team’s 2-0 League One play-off final victory over favourites Bolton.

Londoner Murphy’s first double in nearly five years came in the opening half as Des Buckingham’s side joined champions Portsmouth and Derby in the English second tier next season.

Victory came a little more than two months since the U’s were hammered 5-0 at the Toughsheet Community Stadium.

But they turned the tables in style despite finishing fifth in the regular season, 10 points behind Ian Evatt’s disappointing Wanderers.

Indeed, their winning margin should have been higher. Murphy, 29, has never scored a hat-trick in senior football but three times in the second half he almost made a career breakthrough.

However, Oxford’s collective glory was more important for a club that flirted with relegation to League Two a little more than 12 months ago.

Bolton failed to replicate the super charged start to their previous Wembley appearance, scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes on the way to beating Plymouth 4-0 in last season’s EFL Trophy final.

When they did click, Nat Ogbeta’s shot was blocked by Sean Long, while player of the season Josh Sheehan drifted wide a low right-footed effort from 20 yards.

Oxford threatened too but Ruben Rodrigues could not hit the target with a curling left-footed shot from just outside the penalty area.

However, 14 minutes before the break, Oxford took the lead. Winger Murphy shrugged off Josh Dacres-Cogley’s poor challenge, cut into the area and unleashed a right-footed effort that skimmed off captain Ricardo Santos’ head and over Nathan Baxter’s despairing dive.

Ciaron Brown and Oxford had more misery to inflict on the Trotters after 41 minutes. Timing his run onto Rodrigues’ through ball to perfection, Brown’s first touch took him round and away from Baxter before calmly angling the ball into an empty net.

A chorus of boos were aimed at their team from angry Wanderers fans at the break.

Boss Evatt opted not to make any immediate changes but only three minutes into the second half, an enforced switch saw Kyle Dempsey replace Paris Maghoma, who had struggled since a first-minute tackle by Sam Long.

However, Murphy went close to his hat-trick and putting the final out of Wanderers’ reach after 58 minutes. He outpaced Gethin Jones before shooting fractionally wide of Baxter’s right post.

Oxford penalty king Cameron Brannagan was also forced out of the action by injury after 64 minutes but Oxford remained dominant.

Only Baxter’s superb stop denied Murphy a deserved treble prior to a triple Trotters’ change, including the withdrawals of top scorer Dion Charles and Josh Sheehan.

Instead, Oxford looked most likely to score again. A VAR check ruled Baxter’s foul on Owen Dale was fractionally outside the area before Joe Bennett’s set-piece was palmed clear by the goalkeeper.

Murphy headed wide to seal the deal after 81 minutes but they comfortably played out time, including nine minutes of stoppages to crown promotion.

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