Oxford United and Blackpool are set to face-off in the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final on Tuesday night, as both sides hope to take one step closer to securing a place in the Championship for next season.
Oxford's impressive form towards the end of the campaign helped them secure a playoff berth. They won four of their last five matches to dramatically snatch the last spot away from Portsmouth, following their final day defeat at Accrington Stanley. Karl Robinson's side will be looking to do one better than their play-off final defeat to Wycombe Wanderers last year and finally, put those memories to rest. Robinson himself, though, will have to watch the game from the stands, as he serves out a four-match touchline ban due to an incident in the club's 3-1 defeat to Sunderland back in April. This would also extend to the play-off final, should they progress.
Like the U's, Blackpool also had an incredibly strong second half of the season. They lost just twice from the 6th February, climbing up from the 13th position to eventually finish third. They finished the campaign with four straight wins, conceding none in the process. The Tangerines were last in the Championship during the 2014/15 season, and Neil Critchley will want to carry on the sterling job he has done with his side to get them back up.
Oxford have the benefit of an almost fully fit squad to choose from; John Mousinho and Marcus McGuane are the only two likely to miss out.
Meanwhile, Blackpool are hoping Sullay Kaikai, Ethan Robson and Grant Ward could potentially return to action on Tuesday night. The trio have missed recent matches due to injury and will be assessed in training in the lead up to the game.
Daniel Gretarsson will be sidelined, though, as he is set for surgery on his shoulder.
Oxford (4-3-3): Stevens - Long, Moore, Atkinson, Ruffels - Henry, Brannagan, Sykes - Lee, Taylor, Shodipo.
Blackpool (5-3-2): Maxwell - Turton, Ballard, Thorniley, Husband, Garbutt - Embleton, Dougall, Mitchell - Yates, Simms.
Ones to watch
Oxford's squad has the quality to spare in all positions, meaning any regular member of their starting XI could feasibly be their one to watch. However, James Henry in particular, has provided some great performances in the last couple of months.
His link-up play with Elliot Lee and squad top scorer Matty Taylor has proven fruitful for the attacking side of the team, with his drive and determination in the middle of the park making him a force to be reckoned with. He is most likely the best creative presence in the team, and Blackpool will do well to keep him nullified.
Blackpool's one to watch is a little more clear cut, as Jerry Yates fills in that role comfortably. The striker, who has attracted interest from several Championship sides, managed an impressive 22 strikes in all competitions this season which was 14 more than joint second highest scorers in the squad Gary Madine and Ellis Simms.
He has established himself as a fan favourite in the process and will provide the biggest threat to Oxford's defence for sure.
The previous fixture between these two sides came in March this year, as Blackpool ran out 2-0 winners at the Kassam Stadium. Goals from Kenny Dougall and Daniel Ballard secured the points for the Tangerines. The other encounter between the sides saw a 0-0 draw in December 2020.
In the head-to-head record, Blackpool come out on top with 16 wins compared to Oxford's 11. There have also been eight games where the points have been shared.
How to watch
Oxford have been able to secure a maximum capacity of 4,000 for the game, with exclusive access to tickets given to current 2020/21 season ticket holders in the form of a one-off unweighted ballot.
The game is also available on the Sky Sports Football channel, with kick-off scheduled for 18:00 BST.