Portsmouth’s wait for a first victory in the play-offs continues after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Oxford in the first leg of their League One semi-final. Marcus Browne pounced for Oxford two minutes before half-time to cancel out the Republic of Ireland international Ronan Curtis’s 14th goal of the season.
Pompey, who have now gone seven play-off matches without a single win, came storming out of the starting blocks. Curtis could have opened the scoring after only six minutes when his drilled shot clattered the base of the post.
The hosts carved out another good chance three minutes later from Marcus Harness’s floated free-kick but the defender Christian Burgess could not keep his header down. Pompey had two strong penalty appeals turned down after Oxford defender Rob Dickie first appeared to handle the ball inside his own box before later dragging Burgess to ground.
Kenny Jackett’s side took a deserved lead in the 32nd minute as Curtis found space inside the Oxford penalty area before firing low past the goalkeeper Simon Eastwood at his near post.
The goal seemed to spark Oxford into life and, in the 38th minute, the on-loan Bristol City striker Matty Taylor was inches away from getting on the end of Browne’s cross.
And Karl Robinson’s side equalised in the 43rd minute courtesy of Browne’s sixth goal of the season.
Browne picked up the ball 10 yards outside the Portsmouth penalty area before cutting in from the left and steering a right-foot shot beyond the Alex Bass.
Browne continued to be Oxford’s danger-man in the early stages of the second half and 12 minutes after the restart the former West Ham youngster dragged a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Burgess was making his farewell Fratton Park appearance after sealing a three-year contract with the Belgian club Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, owned by the Brighton chairman, Tony Bloom.
The centre-back tested the reflexes of Eastwood with a downward header from a Harness free-kick, which the Oxford keeper did well to turn past the post. The two teams will meet again at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium on Monday to decide who progresses to the final at Wembley on 13 July.