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Oxford 25/1 for Championship promotion after winning League One play-off final

Oxford will play in next season's Championship after beating Bolton 2-0 in Saturday's League One play-off final at Wembley.

Josh Murphy scored both goals as the U's ended their 25-year absence from the second tier, firing home a deflected effort on 31 minutes before slotting the second past Trotters' goalkeeper Nathan Baxter 11 minutes later.

Bolton struggled to get back into the game and Des Buckingham's side held on for a convincing 2-0 victory.

Oxford 2024/25 Championship Odds

Buckingham makes most of Manning's good work

Previously a goalkeeper for the club's youth sides before joining the non-playing staff, eventually becoming a first-team coach under Chris Wilder, boss Buckingham rejoined the club in November following Liam Manning's move to Bristol City, taking over his hometown club and guiding them into the play-offs.

The U's were second at the time and eventually finished fifth, ending the season with a 2-1 win at Exeter before beating Peterborough 2-1 over two legs.

Wembley beckoned and Murphy's double did the business against Bolton, and it was arguably March's 5-0 defeat to the Trotters that sparked Oxford's promotion push.

That was their third defeat in four and United responded by losing one of their next 11, including Saturday's victory, conceding just five times since the loss in Lancashire.

Speaking after his team's Wembley success, Buckingham admitted that his team's trouncing at the Toughsheet Stadium was a "massive changing point".

Squad built on solid foundations

Saturday's hero, Murphy, has previously played in the Premier League with Norwich and Cardiff and is part of a squad built on solid foundations. Defender Joe Bennett and midfielder Josh McEachran are also among those with Premier League experience.

Wales striker Mark Harris netted 15 times after joining last summer and will want another shot at the Championship after being on the fringes at Cardiff.

Meanwhile, midfielder Cameron Brannigan has been a mainstay since signing from Liverpool in 2018 but has often shown the quality to suggest he could step up a level if the chance arose.

The way the squad has been assembled hints that the board will be looking to add experience, pick up players with a point to prove and secure savvy loans like goalkeeper James Cumming, who excelled after joining from Chelsea in January.

There is also the interesting case of Stuart Findlay. The former Scotland international joined United after a spell in the MLS at Philadelphia Union but a lack of opportunities saw him return to former club Kilmarnock on loan last summer. 

The 28-year-old's best football has come during his three spells with Killie but at 28 and with two years to run on his contract, Buckingham may see Findlay's experience both on and off the field as a potential asset.

It is also worth noting that Oxford has a lot going for it geographically and culturally. The 'City of Dreaming Spires' has plenty to attract players, including its famous university, while, like Ipswich, the club's reputation as a sleeping giant will tempt players looking to boost their CV.

Geographically, it is also around 90 minutes by road and train to London, giving the club's recruitment team access to young players looking for opportunities either away from or nearer the capital.

Will the U's be more than a one-season wonder?

Oxford will certainly give it their all and may also feel that recent history is on their side. Last season's promoted trio from League One - Plymouth, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday - all avoided relegation, with the Tractor Boys recording an already-famous repeat promotion to the Premier League.

Of course, the U's initial priority will be to secure survival, but their players and supporters will also be daring to dream of emulating Ipswich by taking their club back to the top flight for the first time since 1987/88.

United have previously done just that, recording back-to-back promotions, winning the old Division Three and Division Two in 1983/84 and 1984/85, finishing 18th in Division One, and winning the EFL Cup in 1985/86.

There are comparisons between Buckingham and Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna. Both never quite made the grade as players but quickly switched their focus to coaching and embraced different challenges to get them where they are now.

Buckingham has spent time in New Zealand, Australia and India, picking up contacts along the way. Like Manning before him, he is one of the new breed of resourceful young coaches who have learned their trade, built good networks, and embraced innovation.

With all three promoted sides avoiding relegation, the 2023/24 campaign appears to be evidence that the gap between the Championship and League One is closing. 

With Buckingham at the helm and their reputation within the game, Oxford, 100/1 to win next season's second-tier title, could cause several shocks.

This article was written by a partner sports writer via Spotlight Sports Group. All odds displayed on this page were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

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