Penalty heartbreak for Portsmouth - Neil Allen's match report as Oxford progress to play-off final

The play-offs ramped up their cruelty - and Pompey endured yet more heartbreak.

Monday, 6th July 2020, 8:03 pm
Updated Monday, 6th July 2020, 8:13 pm
Lee Brown consoles Cameron McGeehan after his missed penalty in the shootout against Oxford Picture: Robin Jones/Getty Images

The format has dished out off-side goals, stoppage-time winners and elimination at the hands of a former loanee.

Now the Blues have perished at the hands of a penalty shoot-out.

The wretched run continues, three semi-final play-off losses in the past five seasons – and no victory in eight fixtures in total.

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Oxford celebrated beating Pompey 5-4 on penalties to book their passage to the League One play-off final. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

On this occasion, it was Cameron McGeehan whose reputation will forever be tainted.

The loanee from Barnsley had put in an impressive display, one of his best yet in a Pompey shirt.

But when his spot-kick was saved by Simon Eastwood low down to his right, there was to be now coming back for Kenny Jackett’s men.

Oxford United rattled in all five of their attempts to secure a 5-4 triumph and place at Wembley in the League One final.

The game had finished 1-1 after extra-time and 2-2 on aggregate, the teams unable to be split in an encounter which surely would have only captivated those with support invested in it.

It was a cagey, tight affair, with little goal-scoring opportunities and difficult on the eye. Perhaps it was only fair penalties decided the outcome.

Marcus Harness had given the Blues a lead - only for Ellis Harrison’s own goal from a corner to level three minutes into time added on at the end of the first half.

Later, John Marquis hit the outside of the post with a header, but neither side mustered up enough quality to claim the win in normal time.

Marquis, Gareth Evans, Lee Brown and Oli Hawkins all scored from their spot kicks, yet the hosts were more potent.

Cruel on Christian Burgess on his 210th and final appearance before departing for Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.

He was even made captain for the Kassam Stadium fixture.

But in the end it was left to penalties to decide - and more heartbreak for Pompey.

Kenny Jackett had opted to freshen up the side he fielded on Friday, with three changes to the starting XI.

However, once again club captain Tom Naylor was omitted, instead named among the nine-man bench for the fixture.

The Blues boss did, though, hand recalls to Steve Seddon and James Bolton, replacing Lee Brown and Ross McCrorie in the full-back roles.

The third alteration was Ryan Williams coming in for Andy Cannon, prompting a positional reshuffle.

With Williams in his customary place on the right flank, Marcus Harness was asked to switch inside to take the spot of Cannon as the number 10.

The pair had taken up such roles during the second half of Friday’s game following the introduction of Williams from the bench.

Once more there was no place for Ben Close in the 20-man squad, while Brett Pitman and Jack Whatmough are currently not being considered.

The Blues were given an early scare on three minutes when Jamie Mackie, in for Matty Taylor, rattled off a shot from just inside the box.

However, Bass flung himself to his left to superbly keep the ball out one-handed, before collecting it at the second attempt.

Then James Henry tried his luck from 25 yards, but the ball flew well off target, without troubling Bass.

Pompey won the first corner of the game on 16 minutes following good work by Williams down the right,

The visitors created their best opportunity so far on 19 minutes when the lively Williams crossed left-footed from the right.

It was met with a Bryn Morris header through a pile of players, yet harmlessly flashed wide of the post.

As at Fratton Park, it was proving to be a tough encounter, although Rob Dickie did head a free-kick from the right over the bar when well-placed.

On 37 minutes, another Williams cross from the right caused problems, with Harrison pouncing on the edge of the six-yard box.

However, his low angled shot was saved by the legs of Simon Eastwood and ricocheted behind for a corner.

Pompey broke the deadlock on 38 minutes through a classy finish from Harness.

The forward found enough space to fire in a left-footed shot from the edge of the area which squeezed in at the right-hand post to make it 1-0.

With almost the last kick of the first half, Oxford found themselves level.

Henry’s corner came in from the left and Harrison jumped up with Bass, only to get a touch to the ball off the top of his head.

It arrowed towards the far corner and, despite Sean Raggett’s acrobatic clearance off the line, it had already crossed - and the hosts had their equaliser.

It had arrived three minutes into time added on, with Pompey managing to kick-off before the half-time whistle sounded.

Curiously, goalkeeping coach John Keeley warmed up Craig MacGillivray on the pitch during the whole of half-time, yet Bass continued.

The start to the second half began in ugly fashion, both sides launching the ball aerially with little composure and barely anything to entertain.

Sam Long became the first player to enter the book when, on 55 minutes, he grabbed Curtis around the waist and cynically threw him to the floor as the Irishman attempted to burst forward.

Jackett made a double change on the hour mark, with John Marquis and Brown introduced for Seddon and Harrison.

Marquis almost made an immediate impact when, on 69 minutes, he headed Curtis’ left-wing cross against the outside of the far post.

Harness was also still threatening and, on 77 minutes, collected Curtis’ pass inside to unleash a first-time right-footed effort which curled just past the far post.

The fourth official indicated a minimum of five minutes of time added on as the tie headed towards extra-time.

There was still the opportunity for Elliott Moore to head a right-wing corner past the post - but the match was scheduled for another 30 minutes of play.

The game of few opportunities continued, although Marquis did get into Raggett’s way to send a header from Brown’s cross wide.

Perhaps it was fitting when the encounter entered penalties, with the sides unable to be split - and never suggesting they could be,

Then McGeehan missed - and Pompey remain in League One for another season.