A close-range effort from Mikael Mandron and an injury-time strike from Owen Dale were enough to give Crewe Alexandra a 2-0 win at the Kassam Stadium this evening.
Mandron's untidy first-half effort and Dale's clinical finish were enough to decide a game that was high on energy but never quite saw the U's find their natural rhythm.
Slow out of the blocks, it had still been a fairly even first 28 minutes before the visitors scored the night's first goal in slightly fortuitous circumstances.
The build up was slick and impressive: Tom Lowery at the heart of things and Charlie Kirk the outlet on the left, but when the initial shot was blocked it bobbled out on to Mandron’s boot and United were a goal down.
Mandron might have doubled the lead eight minutes later but prodded a clear chance over the bar and United were struggling to stem the flow as the Railwaymen had the better of the second quarter of the game. Kirk, who really should be captain, fired wide from a decent position and United hadn’t truly tested either keeper Will Jaasakelainen or my spelling of his name in a flat first half.
Resisting the tempation to make changes at the break, Karl Robinson instead asked for more urgency and a touch more composure from his players, who had found it hard to get any time on the ball. Sam Winnall and Jordan Obita were given half an hour and Winnall's first touch was positive: a header from a Josh Ruffels cross which tested Jaaskelainen's handling for almost the first time.
United hadn't been overrun at the back and improved after the break. That Winnall header made it one effort on target each at that stage, but Crewe had been so solid and it wasn't until the final quarter that United started to find any space, with Winnall unable to guide a second header on target from similar range with 15 minutes left.
Even so, it took a magnificent save from Simon Eastwood and an even better block on the line to stop Crewe putting the game beyond the U's with eight minutes left, although Winnall hobbling off moments later left United with just ten men and an almost impossible task.
Late pressure saw free kicks fall short and crosses flash across the box but it just wasn't to be, and in injury time one last move and a slick pass across sent Dale free to end it as a contest.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA