IN­TER­VIEWS BY JOHN PAYNE

Metro (UK) - - MATCH ZONE -

A WEM­B­LEY fi­nal with­out fans may be sur­real but it will not di­min­ish the im­por­tance of Mon­day’s play-off fi­nal for Ox­ford and Wycombe.

‘Don’t get me wrong, we would love to have them there,’ said Chair­boys de­fender Dar­ius Charles, whose side are look­ing to reach English foot­ball’s sec­ond tier for the first time.

‘Ul­ti­mately it doesn’t change the sig­nif­i­cance of the game it­self, the re­ward is still the same.

‘I believe it al­most takes the pres­sure off – when it’s just the 11 v 11 and there is no one there apart from you and the rest of your team, it al­most hones your fo­cus a bit more.’

Charles has twice been a League Two play-off win­ner, with AFC Wim­ble­don in 2016 and pro­vid­ing the as­sist for John Mous­inho’s win­ner for Steve­nage against Torquay nine years ago. That was at Old Traf­ford be­cause the na­tional sta­dium was be­ing used for the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal and Mous­inho, now Ox­ford club cap­tain, says: ‘I’ve been try­ing to play at Wem­b­ley for 15 years and it’s go­ing to be with­out fans.

‘But it’s great to have a play-off fi­nal. I’d def­i­nitely take play­ing with­out fans over not be­ing there.

‘Play­ing with­out crowds is not some­thing we’re go­ing to get used to any time soon and to have won (Mon­day’s semi-fi­nal against Portsmouth) at home on penal­ties with­out any fans was sur­real.’

Mous­inho was a con­fi­dante of boss Karl Robin­son on the bench against Pom­pey be­fore com­ing on to­wards the end of ex­tra-time and scor­ing their fourth penalty in the shoot-out.

The 34-year-old, who signed a oneyear con­tract ex­ten­sion last week, said: ‘I still feel I have a lot to offer as a player but I’ve been re­ally lucky that since Karl has been man­ager, he has in­volved my­self and Jamie Mackie on the coach­ing side.

‘If we want to say any­thing pre­match, half-time, post-match, the fo­rum is al­ways there for us.’ Mous­inho was pro­moted to the Cham­pi­onship with Bur­ton in 2016 and says: ‘It’s very dif­fi­cult to ex­press what it would mean, not just for me per­son­ally but for the side (to go up).

‘When I came to Ox­ford, the in­ten­tion was to get into the Cham­pi­onship but we strug­gled for two sea­sons and were in the bot­tom three af­ter seven games. It would cer­tainly be a ca­reer high­light (to win pro­mo­tion at Wem­b­ley).’

Charles, who cred­its boss Gareth Ainsworth’s metic­u­lous plan­ning plus the squad’s hard graft and ca­ma­raderie for Wycombe’s place in the fi­nal, is philo­soph­i­cal af­ter a sur­geon told him he should stop play­ing due to a hip prob­lem.

‘This is the big­gest game of my ca­reer if you look at it in terms of league sta­tus but this time last year I was told to re­tire,’ said the 32-yearold. ‘To go on and play 30-odd games this sea­son, I’ve al­ready achieved ev­ery­thing I set out to achieve.

‘I’m re­pay­ing the faith this great club have shown me and to get pro­moted would be a fairy­tale.’

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