INTERVIEWS BY JOHN PAYNE
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.’