Portsmouth vs Oxford UnitedEnglish League One, KO: 17:30 Jul 3, 2020, Fratton Park
THE stakes couldn't be higher for Portsmouth and Oxford as they come out of cold storage and straight into the heat of a play-off semi-final.
This has the potential to be a cracker of a contest with the sides so evenly matched that only goal difference kept Oxford above Pompey when League One was called early and standings decided on a points-per-game basis.
Portsmouth suffered play-off pain at this stage last season, losing out to Sunderland, and will be determined to go at least one step further this time. But they won't get it easy against Karl Robinson's men who have improved on last term's mid-table finish by mounting a promotion push.
After a stunning nine-game winning run at the start of 2020, Pompey's form dipped a little and they headed into lockdown by going three games without a victory in all competitions.
Oxford's form was almost in total contrast, recovering from a run of just one win in eight games to record five successive victories before League One was halted.
If they can return in the same style then they will be confident of good result to take into the second leg at home but it all depends on who has been keeping sharper and fitter during the extended break.
How the bookies view it
Despite home advantage counting for little behind closed doors, the bookies make Pompey favourites, with Kenny Jackett's side a best 23/20 with Coral. The draw is 12/5 at BetVictor while Oxford United are as big as 27/10 with 888Sport.
Recent head to head
There's been nothing between these sides in the last three seasons and both matches earlier this season ended in stalemates. The score was 2-2 at Kassam Stadium for their Football League Trophy clash, with Pompey winning on penalties, and the League One clash at Fratton Park finished 1-1 (below).
In the two seasons before that, each game ended in a home win and Oxford's last victory at Fratton Park was a 1-0 triumph in 2016.
Players to watch
Brett Pitman, Matt Casey and Adam May have extended their Portsmouth deals by a month to see out the season but they haven't been training with the squad so it would be a surprise if they started.
Kenny Jackett doesn't have any injury worries and his best beat for a goal could be John Marquis who has 14 for the season. Ellis Harrison started ahead of Marquis up front in their last game but missed a few warm-up games with a back injury and might have to settle for a place on the bench here. Marquis is 21/10 with Ladbrokes in the anytime scorer market.
Oxford are without Nathan Holland after the loanee returned to parent club West Ham after suffering a serious injury but otherwise Robinson has a full squad to choose from.
James Henry has been his main man in attack, netting 14 times this term, and is a tempting 7/2 with Paddy Power for a goal at Fratton Park.
Anything else catch the eye
The League Two play-offs also took time to catch fire, with the first legs a bit cagey before goals started to fly in for the second legs and the final.
For that reason, I'm going to back under 2.5 goals here at 8/11 with William Hill while betting against a goal in each half at 10/11 with Paddy Power. The same firm also offer 6/5 on the second period being the highest-scoring half and that also appeals.
Another feature of the Premier League games has been the low number of yellow cards. There were only three in each of the games between these sides earlier this season so try betting against a busy night for the ref.
I can't see a market yet for total number of cards but will keep my eyes peeled and post an update.
This English League One match between Portsmouth and Oxford United will be played on Jul 3, 2020 and kick off at 17:30. Check below for our tipsters best Portsmouth vs Oxford United prediction.