REPORT Oxford United heading to Wembley
Oxford United are going to Wembley. Amid scenes of enormous tension the U's did enough to hold on to a 2-0 first-leg lead and go through against Millwall despite losing the second leg 1-0. A clever finish from Lee Gregory had given the League One side a chance, but after going down to ten men they were unable to find another way past the U's, who now head for Wembley for the third time in their history.
Millwall had missed a host of chances in the second half of the first leg and did so again in the second minute of the return, captain Steve Morison heading a chance wide from six-yards out that turned out to be one of just two chances that Millwall created in the opening period. With an electric atmosphere coming from the stands it was a fantastic spectacle and the tension was palpable as the Lions committed men forward to try and get an early breakthrough.
United weathered the early flurry of pressure and then started to settle and spray the ball around through John Lundstram in midfield. Danny Hylton, preferred in attack to Jordan Bowery, ran miles trying to create openings for others and also closing down Millwall defenders while the ever-present threat of Kemar Roofe made Millwall reluctant to throw too many men forward too early. United’s top scorer poked a 28th-minute effort wide with United’s best chance before Benji Buchel made his first save of the night, getting down to his left to make a routine save from Lee Gregory.
There was genuine tension, with Wembley on the horizon, meaning that passes went astray from both teams although there was no doubting the commitment. Jonjoe Kenny, impressive on his debut, showed a willingness to join Alex MacDonald further forward on the right flank when needed but generally it was a case of being sensible and protecting that two-goal cushion.
It took a very good save from Buchel on 50 to keep that lead intact, spreading himself to keep Morison’s effort out as the big striker at last found space inside the box, before Hylton had a glorious chance to get the U’s to Wembley, heading tamely at keeper Jordan Archer when unmarked and eight-yards out.
Reprieved, Millwall promptly pushed the tension to unbearable levels with a goal to make it 2-1 on aggregate. Jed Wallace picked up the ball and drove forward. United backed off and when the ball was worked wide and then into the box it ran to Gregory who turned smartly and planted the ball past the helpless Buchel.
Grown men began to peep through their fingers as it became as intense as any game ever seen at the Kassam Stadium, but on 64 there was a degree of relief as Hylton battled his way to the edge of the box only for Mark Beevers to bring him to ground. Ref Scott Duncan was immediately on hand to brandish a red card.
That occurred right on the edge of the area and from the free kick Callum O'Dowda turned quickly and sent a fine effort towards the top left corner, forcing Archer into a fantastic save to keep his side in the tie. Even from the resulting corner it might have been 1-1 (or 3-1 if you prefer) when the excellent Alex MacDonald rose to head a foot wide of the goal.
That earlier cagey game was now forgotten as Millwall were forced to gamble and United began to find more space. Roofe's touch for once deserted him on 72 when the ball sat up too high just as it seemed he had Archer in his sights, while shots were blocked around the edge of the area as the Lions, knowing that another goal would end the contest, defended for their lives.
Millwall gave it everything and the home crowd were whistling for the end after about 80 minutes. There was still time for sub Fred Onyedinma to poke a tame effort wide for Millwall, but over the two games the better side had won and it is the U's who will enjoy their day in the sun.
Cue wild scenes of celebration. It started with a win over Swindon, it ends with a day on the biggest stage of all.
See you there.
Fifty/50 winning number 441142 wins £1,238
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher and Steve Daniels, stats by Opta
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