The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By John Lyons

IF LOS­ING at Wem­b­ley once is painful enough, then spare a thought for last Sun­day’s beaten fi­nal­ists, Ox­ford United.

A year ago, they lost 3-2 to Barns­ley in a thrilling fi­nal at the home of foot­ball. This sea­son, they bat­tled all the way through again and were red-hot favourites head­ing into the match against League One’s base­ment side, Coven­try.

But Michael Appleton’s men couldn’t turn the ta­bles, suc­cumb­ing to a 2-1 de­feat in front of a bumper 74,434 crowd.

Gael Bi­gi­r­i­mana gave the un­der­dogs an 11th-minute lead and Ge­orge Thomas ri­fled home a su­perb halfvol­ley from the edge of the box to dou­ble the lead ten min­utes into the sec­ond half.

U’s sub Liam Ser­combe pulled one back when he fired a shot through a crowd of play­ers with 15 min­utes left and they threw the kitchen sink at Coven­try in the clos­ing stages. Sky Blues keeper Lee Burge made a bril­liant in­jury-time save to deny Ox­ford sub Josh Ruf­fels and Bi­gi­r­i­mana cleared off the line in the en­su­ing scram­ble. But it wasn’t to be as the U’s came up just short once again, leav­ing boss Appleton deeply dis­ap­pointed. “Games are de­cided by what hap­pens in both boxes and we gave our­selves a moun­tain to climb by go­ing two down,” he said. “It’s dif­fi­cult to take and there’s a real sense of frus­tra­tion in the dress­ing room.” It was lit­tle sur­prise that a de­flated Ox­ford lost 3-1 at home to pro­mo­tion­chas­ing Fleet­wood Town in the league on Wed­nes­day, on the back of their Wem­b­ley pain. Their chance of earn­ing a play-off place looks to have gone and means the U’s can ex­pect to be in League One again next term. That en­sures they will be in the Check­a­trade Tro­phy again next sea­son – pro­vid­ing the com­pe­ti­tion isn’t scrapped. Maybe it will be third-time lucky…

CON­SO­LA­TION: Liam Ser­combe scores for Ox­ford

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