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Preview: Bolton Wanderers vs Oxford United – Yellows eye up Championship reunion after 25 years

Saturday is the day of reckoning in League One as Bolton Wanderers and Oxford United go head-to-head in the play-off final at Wembley Stadium.

The season boils down to this one-off tie, with the last remaining place in next season’s Championship on the line. 

Despite boasting an impressive 78% unbeaten ratio during the regular season, Bolton had to settle for a third-place finish in the League One table, trailing runners-up Derby County by five points. 

However, there’s still time for the Trotters to make amends and return to England’s second-tier competition for the first time since a fateful 2018/19 season when they only accrued 32 points to finish second from bottom.

Ian Evatt’s side dispatched Barnsley in a thrilling play-off semi-final tie, running out 5-4 aggregate victors, courtesy of an incredible first-leg performance on the road.

Bolton generated a commendable 2.17 xG en route to a 3-1 triumph at Oakwell before slumping to a 3-2 home defeat in the return leg. 

Oxford’s semi-final showdown against Peterborough United wasn’t as action-packed, but there were plenty of dramatic moments. 

Elliott Moore’s second-half winner inspired the Yellows to a tie-defining 1-0 home win in the first leg before Cameron Brannagan’s equaliser from the spot at London Road rounded off a 1-1 draw. 

It’s been over two decades since Oxford last dined at the Championship table, highlighting the intensity of the pressure on Des Buckingham’s side ahead of this historic contest. 

Match Preview

The home comforts of the Toughsheet Community Stadium were the secret ingredient behind Bolton’s play-off push, with 57% of their League One points coming at this venue (50/87).

Evatt’s side will have to do it on neutral ground this time against an Oxford side they fended off in both league encounters during the regular season, including a thumping 5-0 win on home soil in March. 

That triumph forms part of Bolton’s formidable record against Oxford in the 21st century, with the Trotters suffering just two defeats across 11 competitive meetings.

Desperate to uphold that record, Bolton head to the capital as pre-match favourites amidst a mighty patch, having only lost once in their last nine league outings (W4, D4). 

Oxford finished fifth in the League One standings, ten points adrift of Bolton, and will have to punch above their weight to secure a Championship berth for the first time since 1999.

Buckingham’s team upset the apple cart on Saturday to crash Peterborough out of their semi-final tie, capping off an eye-catching sequence of losing just once in their last ten matches (W6, D3).

However, playing outside the Kassam Stadium potentially spells trouble for Oxford as they’ve gone winless in 54% of their away league games this season (W11, D5, L8). 

Oxford haven’t lost any of their last five fixtures on hostile turf (W3, D2), scoring an awe-inspiring average of two goals per match. 

Team News

Bolton boss Evatt can’t call upon the services of Icelandic forward Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and star midfielder Carlos Mendes Gomes, who are sidelined with long-term injury problems.

Evatt will put the Trotters’ fate into the hands of free-scoring striker Dion Charles, who laid the foundation for the semi-final triumph with a first-leg brace. 

Unlike their opposition, Oxford will touch down in London free of injuries, relying on in-form Brannagan to provide a spark in the front third as he did in both semi-final legs. 

Bolton Wanderers vs Oxford United Potential Line-ups

Bolton Wanderers (3-1-4-2): Nathan Baxter; Eoin Toal, Ricardo Santos, Gethin Jones; Josh Sheehan; Josh Dacres-Cogley, George Thomason, Paris Maghoma, Randell Williams; Dion Charles, Aaron Collins.

Oxford United (4-1-4-1): Jamie Cumming; Fin Stevens, Elliott Moore, Ciaron Brown, Greg Leigh; Cameron Brannagan; OwenDale, Ruben Rodrigues, Marcus McGuane, Josh Murphy; Mark Harris.

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