Oxford United found promotion-chasing Barnsley just too strong this afternoon as they lost 2-0 at Oakwell.
The U's remain just outside the relegation places despite now going 17 games without a win, but now face three huge games after Manchester City loanee Slobodan Tedic's brace pushed Barnsley closer to a shot at a Championship return.
The crucial moment came right on half time, when United's teamtalk changed dramatically after Tedic gave the home side the lead, with a second goal from the Serbian striker just after the break killing any hopes of a second-half revival.
United fought for everything - that is never in question - and they might have been in front early on with their best chance of the game, when Gatlin O’Donkor rippled a chance into the side netting after nine minutes, although the first save came at the other end three minutes later when the excellent Simon Eastwood went full stretch to claw away a Tedic header.
O’Donkor’s day lasted just 23 minutes before he hobbled off to be replaced by Marcus Browne, pressed into action up front. A foul on him soon after led to another good chance for the U’s; Cameron Brannagan’s free kick spectacularly saved by Harry Isted.
Those two chances having gone, the one thing United needed to do was get to the break level, as they had deserved, but instead, right on the whistle, Adam Phillips whipped in a superb cross and Tedic touched it home at the near post to make it 1-0 at half time.
United’s problems were obvious: they haven’t scored two in a game since losing 3-2 to Derby seven games ago and had only ever scored two goals at Oakwell in the entire history of the world, but six minutes into the second half their troubles doubled.
Eastwood made a good save from a Bobby Thomas header, but the ball was retrieved and again crossed from the right by Phillips for Tedic to repeat his earlier trick by steering the ball home to make it 2-0.
United threw on the experience of Josh Murphy, Yanic Wildschut and Billy Bodin and were unfortunate to see a Kyle Joseph flick kicked off the line and two Wildschut efforts go close in added time. But those goals either side of the interval had given them far too much to do and now they need to regroup.
Three games to go: Cheltenham at home on Tuesday, Forest Green away next Saturday and then Accrington Stanley at the Kassam Stadium on the final day. Win two and United should be safe. Win the first, their game in hand over the teams around them, on Tuesday and they go above MK Dons as well as pulling away from the the relegation places: places they have not been in all season.
Time for bravery. Time for someone to be a hero. Come and get behind them.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, Steve Edmunds and Steve Daniels