Simon Eastwood was the hero as Oxford United marched on in the Carabao Cup after a penalty shoot out against Sunderland. Leading through a Rob Hall striker United were pegged back by a Marc McNulty goal late in the 90 minutes to force the drama of a shoot out in which Eastwood saved the last spot kick to send the U's through amid magnificent scenes of celebration.
Sunderland had the early pressure and might have taken the lead inside ten seconds had Marc McNulty not rushed his shot at an exposed Simon Eastwood but United started to go through the gears and get themselves into the game despite a bright start from the Black Cats who harried and chased them down, determined not to give them space to work in.
The moment they did give them a little room they were a goal down. The visitors were unfortunate to see McNulty hammer a good chance against the post, but that almost goes down as an assist to the U’s because having cleared the danger they sprung to the other end for an emotional opener from Hall.
Ever a man for the big occasion, the Swindon slayer had been hobbling after an early knock but when he raced on to the ball just inside the area it was only going to end up in one place: top corner, 1-0 and a superb return for a man who has gone through so much.
It might have got better a couple of minutes later but Shandon Baptiste, back in midfield in place of the injured Cameron Brannagan, missed his kick from similar range to Hall’s opener and James Henry then couldn’t quite get a loose ball under control on 41 as United pressed for a second before the break.
In truth United were gritty rather than at their fluent best and they should have been pegged back just before half time but for some reason Max Power shanked the ball wide of an open goal when McNulty gave him the option of putting it into an empty net from six yards, so the visitors had created three or four openings without managing to call Eastwood into action in the first 45 minutes.
It got tense from then on in!
Sunderland threw on Will Grigg for a left back, did their level best to pin United back and started to bite into challenges in midfield as they threw caution to the wind, risking being picked off at the other end as their attacks became ever more desperate.
Baptiste almost punished them on the hour mark with a firm finish that McLaughlin somehow tipped over the bar but Sunderland then started to apply real pressure for the first time as the game entered its final quarter.
Rob Dickie and Elliott Moore came to the fore but there were vital blocks from Long, Ruffels and Henry as the Black Cats started to pile forward and on 78 minutes McNulty finally found a way to get through a stubborn United back line. In the end it was a simple finish, chesting the ball down after a corner wasn't cleared but a goal had been coming and now United needed to respond.
On came Anthony Forde and Jamie Mackie to try and regain the initiative but had McNulty not poked another chance wide on 81 it would have been game over. Instead we had ten minutes on intense old-fashioned full throttle cup football.
Mackie steered a Fosu cross wide on 86, sub O'Nien thought he had been tripped but got nothing and a last ditch corner brought no further joiy for the visitors as we went to penalties- United sneaking on John Mousinho in the last ten seconds with spot kicks in mind.
And so to penalties. Henry made it 1-0, Power levelled. Forde made it 2-1, O'Nien made it 2-2. Fosu made it 3-2 with a superb strike, Grigg fired over to hand the U's advantage. Mousinho smashed home for 4-2 and McNulty found Eastwood just too good.
On we go. 11 unbeaten and into the quarter finals. What a night.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA