Match ends, Portsmouth 1, Oxford United 1.
Portsmouth 1-1 Oxford United: Marcus Browne strike earns draw at Fratton Park
A fine solo goal from Marcus Browne saw Oxford United draw their play-off semi-final first leg at Portsmouth, in what was the first League One game after a 115-day hiatus.
Protracted discussions about how the season would be decided during the coronavirus outbreak meant the third-tier competition became the fourth and final English league to restart.
While it was an alien scene at a near empty Fratton Park - made all the more eerie by blustery winds whistling around deserted stands - the high-stakes tie behind closed doors was just another strange snapshot of football being played during a pandemic.
Despite the 16-week break and bizarre circumstances on their return, Pompey started brightly with Ronan Curtis hitting the post early on before he put them ahead just after the half-hour mark.
Browne levelled in fine style before the break, but it took a diving save from Simon Eastwood from a Christian Burgess effort to ensure Oxford head into Monday's second leg at the Kassam Stadium on level terms.
Portsmouth finished the game protesting a late decision by referee Gavin Ward not to award an injury-time penalty when Curtis went to ground after he got in a tangle with the legs of Daniel Agyei.
It was one of a number of unsuccessful penalty appeals by the home side in a tie that is finely poised as the teams try to reach Wembley to face either Wycombe Wanderers or Fleetwood Town.
More than two weeks after the Premier League became the first competition to restart after the pandemic-enforced break, Pompey and Oxford started on their quest to complete their curtailed campaign with promotion to the Championship.
After nearly four months since their last competitive fixture, Portsmouth were quickest to settle and dominated early possession.
Curtis, who hit the base of the post with a shot from the edge of the area after just seven minutes, gave Pompey a deserved lead with a effort from the left that crept inside Eastwood's near post.
The goal came just moments after the hosts had appeals for a penalty waved away when Oxford's Rob Dickie - who also appeared to handle an earlier goal-bound effort - tussled with Burgess.
The U's then responded in style through Browne - the forward running free from the half-way line, leaving Pompey's defence struggling to backtrack to adequately cover the danger before he unleashed a low shot beyond goalkeeper Alex Bass.
Both sides had a number of half chances after the break, but it was Burgess who went closest to winning it for Pompey, his flicked header forcing Eastwood into a diving save to his right.
Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett said: "We were pretty strong tonight and we need to replicate that on Monday and go again.
"It was evenly balanced and if you look at the results since football restarted, there has not really been any home advantage. The team who plays better on the night will win."
Oxford boss Karl Robinson said: "They started the game with so much energy and intensity and we had to ride the storm in the first 20 minutes.
"It was the typical first leg of a play-off game and nobody wanted to give too much away.
"They think they could have had one or two penalties, based on what they were shouting on the touchline. They should have had one in the first half when Rob Dickie got hold of their player around the back so they will feel a little bit unlucky.
"I didn't think the referee had a great game but just as players are struggling, referees will too, having not officiated for a long time."
- 15McCrorieSubstituted forBoltonat 63'minutes
- 24McGeehanBooked at 28mins
- 14CannonSubstituted forWilliamsat 62'minutes
- 22HarrisonSubstituted forMarquisat 73'minutes
- 10WoodburnSubstituted forSykesat 55'minutes
- 6GorrinBooked at 87mins
- 8BrannaganBooked at 28minsSubstituted forFordeat 81'minutes
- 9TaylorSubstituted forMackieat 73'minutes
- 30BrowneSubstituted forAgyeiat 81'minutes
- Gavin Ward
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Portsmouth 1, Oxford United 1.
Corner, Portsmouth. Conceded by Robert Dickie.
Attempt blocked. Christian Burgess (Portsmouth) header from the right side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Marcus Harness with a cross.
Corner, Portsmouth. Conceded by Elliott Moore.
Attempt blocked. Bryn Morris (Portsmouth) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Lee Brown with a cross.
Foul by Ryan Williams (Portsmouth).
Mark Sykes (Oxford United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Cameron McGeehan (Portsmouth) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by James Henry (Oxford United).
Alex Rodriguez (Oxford United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Alex Rodriguez (Oxford United).
Christian Burgess (Portsmouth) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jamie Mackie (Oxford United).
Corner, Portsmouth. Conceded by Simon Eastwood.
Attempt saved. Christian Burgess (Portsmouth) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Lee Brown with a cross.
Marcus Harness (Portsmouth) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Alex Rodriguez (Oxford United).
Foul by John Marquis (Portsmouth).