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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conference Play Off Final: Preview

..Oxford United vs. York City
Sunday May 16, 17:00, Wembley

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.

After starting the season against one another, 281 days later Oxford United and York City bring the curtain down on this year's Conference campaign as they do battle at Wembley to determine which of them will reclaim their place in the Football League.

Both clubs suffered play-off heartbreak three years ago. However, one of them will avenge that failure on Sunday and take their place amongst the coveted 92 from next season.

In Oxford's case, it was a route to promotion they hoped to avoid after their blistering start to the campaign. However, Chris Wilder's side eventually subsided as Stevenage's momentum took them to the title.

A top five finish was probably beyond York's expectations before they kicked off their campaign. A consistent season under Martin Foyle's leadership though has earned them a chance to cap it off with promotion.

Irrespective of their pre-season ambitions, defeat would still be a bitter pill for both to swallow come full time. Victory, however, will end what both clubs deem an exile from their rightful home in the Football League.

For York, that exile has been six long years where they have sometimes struggled at the lower reaches of the Conference Premier.

Only once have they looked like claiming promotion back after a disastrous loss of form saw them slide out of the Football League in 2004. That was in 2007, when Billy McEwan's men were beaten in the play-offs by Morecambe.

Now though, former Port Vale boss Foyle has dramatically turned around the Minstermen's fortunes after initially guiding them away from relegation trouble last season.

The professional manner in which they dispatched play-off favourites Luton in their semi-final - winning both legs 1-0 - is testament to the progress that has been made at Bootham Crescent over the past 12 months.

Their success has also been matched by that of top scorer Richard Brodie. With 26 goals, he's been the Conference's leading marksmen this term - form which has seen him linked with Championship clubs.

In City's path are an Oxford team who are making the first appearance at Wembley since winning the League Cup against QPR in 1986.

Unbelievably, just twenty years on from their highest point, the Oxen were relegated from the Football League in 2006.

For a club who have attracted gates over 10,000 during their time in Non League, they have struggled to make a return to League Two that most felt would be a formality.

That included blowing a lead over Dagenham in 2007's title race. They had to settle for a spot in the play-offs instead, where Exeter overturned a first leg deficit to knock out United.

Now though, under the management of Chris Wilder, and with the strikes of 22-goal man James Constable, they stand on the brink of being members of the 92 once again.

Even after defeating Luton in the semi-finals, it's hard to argue that York are the favourites in this game. They finished eight points off their opponents and will be outnumbered in support by fans from Oxfordshire.

However, it's a tag of underdogs that they will undoubtedly relish in what I anticipate will be a very tight affair.

The pressure is on Wilder's men - but this team have shown an ability to deal with such expectations. The first goal will be crucial, particularly if York get it, but I would still back Oxford to emerge victorious come the final whistle.

Nobes' Prediction: Oxford United 2 York City 1

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