Oxford United held their nerve to win promotion to League One this afternoon with a superb 3-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers at the Kassam Stadium. Amid unbelievable tension and drama, an unstoppable header from centre-half Chey Dunkley and a Chris Maguire penalty, followed by a last-minute solo goal from local boy Callum O'Dowda, sparked scenes of jubilation from the sell-out crowd as the U's capped a superb season with a promotion party that will go on long into the night.
With Joe Skarz ruled out after finally having to give in to a persistent groin problem, it meant Josh Ruffels moving to left back for the U's, allowing John Lundstram to return in midfield. There was also a return for top scorer Kemar Roofe up top after an ankle injury.
United made all of the running in the opening stages. Roofe's strike partner Danny Hylton, newly crowned as Supporters Player of the Season, steered a Chris Maguire corner wide in just the second minute and then dragged another low effort wide of the left-hand post on 8 minutes as United went for an early goal to settle any nerves
It was one of those amazing days at the Kassam Stadium, with every seat taken, every fan in full voice and those without tickets cramming on to roofs of vans and cars (even during a mid-half downpour) to try and see the action.
Wycombe looked a constant threat from set pieces and Danny Rowe blasted an early effort well over the bar as United tried to close him down, but they never really forced Benji Buchel into a save all afternoon and it was Maguire with a dipping 30-yard effort on 17 minutes that came closest to that early opener.
The game then settled into a slightly slower tempo after that fast start although United still looked the more likely side to find a breakthrough. Hylton was inches away once more on the half hour when he touched another Roofe cross wide of the far post, Maguire fizzed another good effort wide on 33 then missed by the same distance with a 35th minute free kick. Surely it was a matter of when, not if, the goal would come?
It took eight minutes of the second half. United had pressed and pressed and when a Hylton shot was deflected wide the home fans roared their side forward. Dunkley has been outstanding throughout the second half of the season, attacking every ball into either penalty box and when Maguire drilled in a corner the former Kidderminster Harriers man was simply not going to be stopped. Wycombe's defence could only stand and admire as he threw himself at the ball and powered his header into the net to spark perhaps the loudest roar ever heard at the Kassam Stadium.
Wycombe looked defeated and the U's went for the killer second goal. Roofe saw one shot fly wide off a defender and then had a free kick drift just over on 66 minutes. Keeper Ryan Allsop kept the visitors in it with two good saves but on 72 it was game, and season, over. More slick passing, a ball into Roofe's feet and defender Aaron Pierre's patience snapped, fouling Roofe from behind. Step forward Maguire, calmest man in Oxfordshire, to slot home for 2-0 and seal the most crucial three points of them all.
There was still time for more drama as the Kidlington Kid, Callum O'Dowda raced onto a long ball forward, slipped past the chasing Sido Jombati and powered the ball past Allsop to mean League One football for the U's next season.
It has been a season in which the U's have beaten their biggest rivals, Swindon, outclassed Premier League Swansea, and reached Wembley in the JPT Final. They have been backed by the magnificent Yellow Army every step of the way. Those fans deserve this success. They have had to wait 15 years for the journey to rise above League 2. This day, this win, this season, is for you.
See you in League One
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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