Oxford's arena of heartbreak that must hand Portsmouth a stark play-off reminder

The emotions will still be raw, the wounds not fully healed.

Tuesday, 23rd February 2021, 9:00 am
Pompey dejected after last season's play-off semi-final loss at Oxford. Picture: Robin Jones/Getty Images

When Pompey travel to Oxford United this evening, memories of July will no doubt come flooding back.

The Kassam Stadium provided the venue for the Blues' heartbreaking play-off defeat, confining them to another season in League One.

After two legs and 210 minutes of football against the U's, neither side frankly deserved victory.

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But with the scoreline locked at 2-2, the encounter went to a penalty shootout.

A miss from Cameron McGeehan ultimately proved costly.

Of the 10 spot-kicks, the midfielder was the only player to fluff his lines – meaning Pompey remained shackled to the third tier.

And as things stand, Pompey are again heading for the lottery of the play-offs for a third straight year.

Following a mid-season slump, the Blues currently sit in fifth spot.

Against the backdrop of four defeats in seven matches, belief an automatic promotion place can still be achieved has quickly subsided among swathes of fans

A Twitter poll currently being run by The News sees just three per cent of those taking part believing Pompey can clinch a top-two spot.

In contrast, 60 per cent are predicting another finish in the top six. What's more, 36 per cent reckon Kenny Jackett’s side will end up finishing outside the top six.

With a five-point gap between the Blues and second-placed Peterborough, there is ground that needs making up and little margin for error.

But if there is ever an arena that can provide a stark reminder of why Pompey must avoid the play-offs then it's the Kassam Stadium.

In total, 10 of the players who’ll be in tonight's squad were involved in the loss to Oxford seven months ago.

They include the likes of Sean Raggett, Marcus Harness, Ronan Curtis, Lee Brown and skipper Tom Naylor – who, surprisingly, was left on the bench in both games.

A key reason why Jackett did not make wholesale changes in the summer was that he believed in his group.

So far, the jury is out whether that approach was the correct one at this crucial juncture.

In fairness, with 18 games left, there is still ample time for Pompey to thrust themselves into the top two.

Compared to when Paul Cook’s side claimed the League Two crown in 2017, having been 13 points adrift of Doncaster, the gap the Blues must close is minuscule.

However, Pompey must use the pain they still suffer against Oxford as a catalyst to finally achieving a Championship return.

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