Oxford United picked up one point and Brighton two after a penalty shoot out at the end of an entertaining 2-2 draw in the Checkatrade Trophy. Two goals from Gino van Kessel had opened up a 2-0 lead for United before strikes from distance from James Tilly and Dan Mandriou capped a decent comeback for the young Seagulls.
It was good open football from the off, although sadly Agon Mehmeti's full debut lasted less than five minutes before he was stretchered off after stretching for a loose ball, meaning a longer than scheduled appearance for James Roberts, who worked extremely hard up front.
The injury to Mehmeti disrupted things and the Brighton youngsters should really have scored twice in the next couple of minutes as United readjusted before regaining their composure. Once they settled they started to look dangerous and van Kessel rattled the bar with a tremendous drive as they chased the first goal. On 21 minutes it came via van Kessel. Demanding the ball in the penalty area where he does much of his good work, Roberts let him have it and van Kessel took a touch then smashed the ball goalwards. It was flying in at the near post but span off a defender's leg to take it past keeper Sanchez at the back stick for van Kessel's third United goal.
His fourth wasn't long in coming. This time it was Xemi Fernandez who turned provider with a powerful run through the middle of the park and a well-timed flick to his right for the Curacaoan, who span and fired home again, almost firing through Sanchez from 12 yards out to make it 2-0.
Credit to Brighton who may have lacked experience but had plenty of spirit and hit back on 36 with an excellent goal of their own, Tilly showing great technique to power the ball past the helpless Scott Shearer from the edge of the box.
Shearer, interrupting Simon Eastwood's 75 game run in goal, was well protected by a three-man defence of Curtis Nelson, Mike Williamson and Aaron Martin, with James Henry and Josh Ruffels adding width as wing backs. Xemi might have made it 3-1 just before the break but was denied by a good save from Sanchez, but United had been good value for their half-time lead.
Both sides zipped the ball around on the immaculate surface and it was all very easy on the eye but van Kessel sent a 57th-minute effort well over the bar and Brighton had steadily improved after the break and on 67 minutes were level with another fine strike. This time it was Mandriou with the fizzing effort from 20 yards, giving Shearer little chance and levelling the score at 2-2.
It was anyone's game now - Aaron Martin had a 74th-minute header nodded off the line at one end, Shearer gratefully grasped the ball after a scramble at the other end a minute later. Xemi volleyed a tough chance wide on 78 minutes, Mandroiu smashed yet another blast wide from the edge of the area and both sides had created enough chances to win it.
The closest we came was when sub Joe Rothwell ghosted on to the end of a slick passing move and beat Sanchez but saw the ball come back off the left-hand post.
And so to penalties. Even if it wasn't winner takes it all it was still the ABBA format.
Roberts scored the first, Brighton (so confused by the Abba thing they tried to take one against their own keeper!) scored twice. Rothwell's was saved, Henry scored. Brighton scored their next two, Ruffels netted, Ashby followed suit, then Alzate rolled home to give the visitors two points and United one.
All of which means anything is possible in the last round of games when United welcome the MK Dons. I think.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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