Oxford United salvaged a 1-1 draw against Portsmouth in the first leg of the League One play-off semi-final at Fratton Park.
Ronan Curtis broke the deadlock when his low strike was fumbled by Simon Eastwood in the 32nd minute.
Marcus Browne equalized on the brink of half-time with an unerring finish past Alex Bass from range.
They will meet for the second leg at the Kassam Stadium on Monday, July 6, at 17:00.
Portsmouth started in an efficient manner and dominated possession during the opening exchanges. Marcus Harness looked to create from deep with his exquisite range of passing, while Portsmouth looked to use the left channel as an attacking outlet.
Curtis linked effectively with Lee Brown and exploited Oxford right-back Sam Long, who was looking to break forward for the visitors. Curtis rattled the woodwork when Portsmouth strung together an impressive attack inside the opening five minutes.
Harness showed nimble feet in the heart of midfield and swept an electrifying pass into the feet of Andy Cannon. The Portsmouth midfielder drifted into space and spotted Curtis but his low strike rattled the face of the near post from range.
The hosts squeezed the space on the pitch by playing with a high defensive line and forced Oxford to defend deep inside their own half. Christian Burgess looked to unlock the Oxford defence with measured passes from deep and believed he should’ve had a penalty on the half-hour mark.
Rob Dickie desperately hauled down the 28-year-old inside the penalty area when Harness whipped a teasing corner into the back post. However, Pompey took the lead just minutes later Eastwood fumbled Curtis’ low strike at his near post.
It was another free-flowing move from Portsmouth started once again by Harness. Ellis Harrison released the ball to Cannon with his back to goal and Curtis collected the ball on the left before surging inside and slamming his finish beyond Eastwood.
Oxford responded positively to going behind with Browne looking the charge at the Portsmouth defence. They pressed more intensively and looked more direct in the final third and Browne came close when he dragged a low strike wide from improbable range.
It was a warning sign for the Portsmouth defence as Ross McCrorie gifted Browne space down the left channel by recklessly storming into a challenge on Cameron Brannagan.
Brannagan picked up the loose ball and immediately sprayed the ball out wide to Browne. The former West Ham winger galloped towards Burgess and drilled a low strike beyond Alex Bass at his near post from 25 yards to equalize for the visitors on the cusp of half-time.
Oxford stayed organised and efficient after the break and Mark Sykes made an immediate impact after replacing Ben Woodburn. The Welshman produced an ineffective performance, whereas Sykes charged down the right channel and squared the ball for Browne but his low strike deflected wide of the target.
Harness inadvertently glanced his header over the roof of his own net and Henry Taylor drove the ball at the midriff of Bass from improbable range. Oxford failed to capitalize on a positive start to the second half and Portsmouth came close twice in the final 15 minutes.
Brown made an under-lapping run into the box to collect the ball from Curtis but his venomous strike deflected into the side netting. Burgess was denied by Eastwood at the near post when the Portsmouth defender headed Harness’ free-kick towards goal.
Oxford defended with organisation and efficiency with Dickie showcasing his leadership qualities and understanding of the game. They dealt with a late storm from the Pompey attack to take a valuable draw into the second leg at the Kassam Stadium.
Portsmouth: A Bass; R McCrorie (J Bolton 62′), C Burgess, S Raggett, L Brown; C McGeehan, B Morris; M Harness, A Cannon (R Williams 62′), R Curtis; E Harrison (J Marquis 73′).
Oxford United: S Eastwood; S Long, R Dickie, E Moore, J Ruffels; B Woodburn (M Sykes 55′), A Gorrin, C Brannagan (A Forde 81′), J Henry; M Taylor (J Mackie 73′), M Browne (D Agyei 81′).