Oxford United let a win slip through their fingers as Stevenage came from behind to win 2-1 at the Kassam Stadium this evening.
Leading through a Dan Agyei header early in the game United didn't capitalise on that and allowed their visitors back in to the game when Jamie Reid scored with 20 minutes left before Luke Norris hammered home a last minute winner to make progress from the group unlikely for the U's.
It took just ten minutes for United to score a terrific team goal that started with Joel Cooper bringing the ball forward for Cameron Brannagan who drove at the backtracking Stevenage defence.
His pass to the left wing was weighted and timed perfectly for the advancing Sykes and his cross was powered home from six yards out by the powerful Agyei.
Stevenage, 17th in the League 2 table and like United beaten in their first game, came forward and tested Simon Eastwood with a couple of pot shots from the edge of the area that were easily dealt with but were lucky when Jordan Thorniley powered a James Henry corner against the bar on 17 minutes and thankful to keeper Joe Anang when he fell at the feet of Ryan Williams five minutes later after the winger had stolen the ball from a dawdling defender.
The first half hour was all United until they eased up a little and let the visitors back into the game before the break.
Eastwood needed to make a good save from Reid after half an hour and another from Elliot Osborne soon after and United knew they needed a second goal - Brannagan pinging two efforts just off target from the edge of the box before Henry forced Anang to tip a well-struck effort over the bar after 70 minutes.
They just couldn't quite find a way through a disciplined Stevenage back line for a second time with sub Nathan Holland also denied by Ananag and in the end they were punished for not taking their chances when Reid strode forward and drilled a low skimmer of a shot past the helpless Eastwood to level after 75 minutes.
It's a competition which often sees debuts and tonight it was Ben Davis making his first appearance after joining from Fulham, almost marking his debut with a goal when the advancing Brannagan, the best player on the park, cut the ball back for him inside the area soon after.
With one eye on penalties Norris instead settled the game in the very last minute when he advanced on the right of the area and fired a powerful shot across Eastwood and into the far corner to win it for Alex Revell's side.
Mathematically United could still go through when they play Spurs U21 in their final game, although they would have to score a lot against the Spurs youngsters and rely on already qualified Cambridge beating Stevenage.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Edmunds stats by OPTA