Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe team have shocked English football this season, and that was just from not being relegated.
Predicted to finish ahead of only Bolton, who started on minus twelve points, the Buckinghamshire side are now only one win away from their first-ever appearance in the Championship.
On the other hand, Oxford have also done very well this season. Tipped for mid-table and, after losing their two-star players Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste to Brentford in January, few would have expected to see them at Wembley over seven months later.
The nature of Wycombe getting into the playoffs in the first place disgruntled many, especially Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony whose team was pushed out of the playoff places when Wycombe leapt from seventh to third due to the final table being decided on points per game (PPG).
To get into the final, Oxford had to go the full distance at the Kassam Stadium against Portsmouth, with a 2-2 aggregate score meaning the match went to penalties, where former Liverpool player Cameron Brannagan scored the winning penalty to get the Us into Wembley.
Wycombe managed to come from behind twice to draw 2-2 at home to Fleetwood, with Fred Onyedinma scoring his first goals since September, but the 4-1 thrashing at Highbury saw the Chairboys cruise through without too much worry at Adams Park.
When and where?
The teams will face off at Wembley Stadium, with the match kicking off at 7:30pm on July 13.
This will be Oxford’s first appearance at Wembley since losing 2-1 to Coventry in the EFL Trophy final back in 2017.
Wycombe’s last game at Wembley was another play-off final but in League 2. On that day in 2015, Southend scored a 120th-minute equaliser to take the game to penalties, where they then won the shootout.
The teams only played once in the regular season this year, but in that match at The Kassam, Oxford took a slender 1-0 victory through James Henry’s goal, but it was Adebayo Akinfenwa who stole the limelight with a red card following an on-field melee.
Oxford’s record against their M40 rivals is very strong, being unbeaten in all matches in all competitions since 2015 which was the last time Wycombe overcame the Us.
Both Karl Robinson and Gareth Ainsworth have full squads to choose from, with neither team having injuries or suspensions.
Oxford top scorer Matty Taylor started the second leg against Portsmouth on the bench but he’s looking likely to lead the line at Wembley.
Ainsworth used the same starting eleven in both matches against Fleetwood, so may use the same starting team again for the Final.
Prediction- Goes to the lottery of penalties
On paper, even I would say that Oxford are the stronger team, with more strength in depth on the bench, but I just can’t predict a difference between the sides.
Wycombe may not have the strength in depth and may be the underdogs, but they’re Wycombe, one of those teams you can never write off or predict what will happen in their matches.
Because of Wycombe’s style of defensive and midfield play, which is mostly uniquely tailored to each team they play, each match they play is different, each passage of play is never the same. Yes, some fans will label it ‘anti-football’ due to Route One tactic being deployed in the attack, but with Akinfenwa upfront, why wouldn’t Ainsworth play that way?
Karl Robinson will surely be instructing his players to not concede any unnecessary set pieces, as the left foot of Joe Jacobson could well be magical, scoring directly from corners on multiple occasions this season including one at the Highbury Stadium. He’s also Wycombe’s top scorer, without scoring from open play all season.
Wycombe’s sheer belief may just pull them through, but Oxford certainly won’t be giving them an easy ride of it.
Match Preview written by Tom Cresswell.