Preview: Bolton Wanderers vs. Oxford United – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday’s League One clash between Bolton Wanderers and Oxford United, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Locking horns at the home of English football for a coveted place in next season’s Championship, Bolton Wanderers will do battle with Oxford United in the League One playoff final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Wanderers are heavy favourites heading into this weekend’s following March’s drubbing of Oxford, however the U’s are in a good vein of form and will fancy their chances of winning the showpiece match.

Match preview

© Reuters

Having missed out on automatic promotion by five points to second-placed Derby County at the end of the regular League One campaign, Bolton entered the post-season picture as favourites to earn playoff success and reached Saturday’s final with a 5-4 aggregate win over Barnsley.

A 3-2 defeat at the Toughsheet Stadium for Wanderers in the second leg of the semi-final halted their impressive eight-game unbeaten streak, however Ian Evatt‘s side were able to inflict the required damage on the Tykes at Oakwell in the first leg, with a Dion Charles brace and a Randell Williams‘s strike securing a 3-1 success.

With their ability to perform on the big stage questioned over recent years, last season’s 4-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle in the final of the EFL Trophy at Wembley Stadium will fill Bolton with plenty of confidence to hopefully repeat the trick in the capital and secure Championship football for the first time since 2019.

There is also considerable cause of optimism for Wanderers supporters sourced from their meeting with Oxford at Toughsheet on March 12, when goals from Nathaniel Ogbeta, Josh Cogley, George Thompson, Aaron Collins and playmaker Josh Sheehan sealed a five-goal success over a lacklustre U’s.

Although much is made of Bolton’s difference makers at the top end of the pitch such as Northern Ireland international Charles and Victor Adeboyejo, the influence of centre-back Ricardo Santos cannot be underestimated, with the Portuguese enforcer developing with his the team as they have progressed from a fourth-tier outfit to a side on the verge of the Championship.

Oxford United manager Des Buckingham celebrates after the match on May 8, 2024© Reuters

Oxford have booked their place in Saturday’s Wembley final following a second-legged success over Darren Ferguson‘s Peterborough United side in the semi-finals, winning 2-1 on aggregate after a drama-filled 1-1 draw in the second leg at the Weston Homes Stadium last Wednesday.

Taking a one-goal advantage from the first leg, the U’s were pegged back overall following a 41st-minute strike from Josh Knight of Posh, however Oxford’s midfielder general Cameron Brannagan netted a added-time penalty in the first period which ultimately got his side to Wembley.

Since the 5-0 defeat at Bolton in March, Oxford have smashed a team by five goals themselves and two teams by a four-goal scoreline, meaning that Des Buckingham‘s troops are coming into this clash full of confidence that they can produce an upset.

Applauded for his work rate at the focal point of the U’s press, former Cardiff City man Mark Harris is also leading his side’s Golden Boot race with 15 goals, with the 25-year-old also known for his ability to chase down long balls sent his way.

Bolton Wanderers League One form:

Oxford United League One form:

Team News

Bolton Wanderers' Kyle Dempsey and teammates before the match on January 7, 2024© Reuters

Bolton’s striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson has returned to training this week ahead of Saturday’s final, with the attacker fighting hard to be involved at Wembley.

The only definite absentee for Wanderers is now Carlos Mendes Gomes, who suffered an Achilles injury in February, bringing his season to an end prematurely.

Having found the net in the second leg versus Barnsley last week, Eoin Toal will continue at centre-back alongside Santos and Gethin Jones.

Oxford’s Tyler Goodrham was taken off in the first half at Peterborough last time out, meaning that Marcus McGuane could start at Wembley this weekend.

Sam Long has been talking to the press in the build up to this match and he could replace 21-year-old Fin Stevens on the right side of the U’s backline.

Bolton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Baxter; Jones, Santos, Toal; Cogley, Sheehan, Maghoma, Thomason, Williams; Charles, Collins

Oxford United possible starting lineup:
Cumming; Long, Moore, Brown, Bennett; Brannagan, Dale, Rodrigues, McGuane, Murphy; Harris

SM words green background

We say: Bolton Wanderers 2-0 Oxford United

Bolton had the better of Oxford during their March meeting, and although this meeting will surely not be as easy for Wanderers, they should be confident of earning promotion to the Championship.

The U’s have improved massively since that day at the Toughsheet Stadium, but we believe that Bolton will use their Wembley experience to win the contest.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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