July 6, 2020: Oxford United 1, Portsmouth 1 (2-2 on aggregate, U’s win 5-4 on penalties)

OXFORD United reached Wembley on a day so surreal that the only sliver of normality showed on the scoreboard.

A third successive 1-1 draw between the U’s and Portsmouth meant only penalties could decide a winner in the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final second leg.

United held their nerve, with Cameron Brannagan firing home the deciding spot-kick after Simon Eastwood saved from Cameron McGeehan.

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The score was familiar, but everything else was eerily different.

The coronavirus pandemic shut the country down in mid-March and life was far from normal almost four months later.

English football restarted behind closed doors in June, although clubs in Leagues One and Two voted to curtail the regular season and go straight to the play-offs.

It meant the table was decided on points per game, earning Wycombe Wanderers a place in the top six and ensuring United faced Pompey in the semi-finals.

Oxford Mail:

Oxford United fans were shown on screens, with the game played behind closed doors Picture: David Fleming

Fratton Park and the Kassam Stadium should have been packed to the rafters for two huge matches, but the tie was played in front of a sea of flags and cardboard cut-outs.

Indeed, the only fans ‘present’ for the second leg were displayed on screens at the ground’s open end.

On the pitch, Jamie Mackie forced Pompey goalkeeper Alex Bass into an early save before Simon Eastwood thwarted Ellis Harrison from close range.

Oxford Mail:

Cardboard cut-outs of Oxford United fans in the stands Picture: David Fleming

But the U’s stopper could not prevent Marcus Harness firing the visitors ahead for the second time in the tie, the winger scoring seven minutes before the break.

A surreal evening got stranger when the hosts equalised thanks to goal-line technology, with Harrison diverting James Henry’s corner over the line in the dying moments of the half.

In United's first competitive fixture on July 6, the scorching temperatures ensured both sides were exhausted when extra time came and went.

Oxford Mail:

Cameron Brannagan sends Oxford United to Wembley Picture: David Fleming

The U’s were spot-on in the shoot-out, though, as Ben Woodburn, John Mousinho, Anthony Forde and Matty Taylor all held their nerve.

Eastwood saved McGeehan’s attempt and Brannagan sent United to Wembley, where they lost 2-1 to Wycombe.

United (4-3-3): Eastwood, Long (Woodburn 119), Dickie, Moore, Ruffels, Gorrin (Mousinho 119), Sykes (Hanson 85), Brannagan, Henry (Forde 100), Mackie (Taylor 63), Browne (Agyei 85).

Unused subs: Stevens, Atkinson, Kelly.