A STUNNING strike from Nicky Wroe gave Oxford United a dramatic late breakthrough to finally see off a stubborn Wycombe Wanderers.
The midfielder's first goal for the U's lit up the afternoon and came as a huge relief to the visitors, who played against ten men for more than 70 minutes.
Steven Craig received a straight red for a clash with Johnny Mullins, but the away side struggled to open up a well organised Chairboys outfit.
Just as it began to look like a stalemate was on the cards, Wroe's quality strike found the net to give United their first victory in six games.
- Match highlights - via Oxford United's Youtube channel
The visitors made three changes to their starting line-up from the midweek draw at Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup.
Wroe and Danny Rose came into midfield alongside Mullins, while Ryan Williams was restored to the XI as Scott Davies, Josh Ruffels and Tyrone Marsh all dropped to the bench.
The noise from United's away fans was the most notable element of an even opening to the game.
Michael Raynes leapt to head a David Hunt long throw narrowly wide with the first chance of the game, on ten minutes.
The defender came even closer a couple of minutes later, when goalkeeper Matt Ingram made a mess of coming to claim Rose's free-kick. Raynes headed the loose ball goalwards, but it was cleared off the line.
Wycombe were primed for their big derby and a fired-up Craig went head-to-head with Raynes.
Referee Brendan Malone ticked off both players, but had no hesitation in producing a straight red card at the next flashpoint.
On 18 minutes a long ball forward ended with Mullins in a heap on the floor. United's players were incensed with Craig, who was sent off for the violent clash.
The dismissal immediately changed the dynamic of the game, as Wycombe's priority became containing the U's.
The visitors were allowed to have the ball unchallenged in their half, but once they crossed into Chairboys territory it became tougher.
For all their patient possession, it took time for United to create chances.
A neat one-two with Mullins put James Constable into space out wide nine minutes before the break and his low cross just missed Sean Rigg at the back post.
Constable came the closest to breaking the deadlock in stoppage time. The striker, who scored at Adams Park last season, met Hunt's cross with a firm header, but Ingram flung himself to his left and made an excellent save.
U's boss Chris Wilder brought on Deane Smalley for Raynes at the break to provide an extra attacking option.
The pattern of the game continued, with Wycombe happy to let the opposition have the ball and defend their penalty area doggedly.
Just before the hour the ball fell to Wroe after Smalley's shot had been blocked, but the midfielder's effort skidded wide.
Constable and Williams also blasted half chances over as United searched for a breakthrough.
Despite the balance of play, the clearest opening fell to Wycombe.
A free-kick gave the hosts a rare moment going forward and from the set piece it fell to Gary Doherty at the back post, where his shot was smartly blocked by Ryan Clarke.
The game began to open up, which helped United find space in the final third.
Smalley, who had added energy since coming on, got in down the right and hung up a superb cross where Newey rose at the back post. A goal looked a certainty, but Leon Johnson made a fantastic block.
Time rapidly ebbed away and it was beginning to look another stalemate for United until, three minutes from the end of normal time, they dramatically found a way through.
The ball was laid off to Wroe, who launched a half-volley which flew into the far corner, sparking an explosion of joy from the away fans behind the goal.
A hurly-burly finish produced nervous moments at both ends in stoppage time, but United saw out the game to claim a precious victory.
Oxford Utd: Clarke, Hunt, Raynes (Smalley 46), Wright, Newey, Wroe, Mullins, Rose, Williams (Davies 90), Constable, Rigg (Ruffels 90).
Unused subs: Henly, Bevans, O'Dowda, Marsh.
Wycombe: Ingram, Arnold, Johnson, Doherty, Wood, McCoy, Scowen (Kretzschmar 85), Lewis, Bloomfield (Morias 89), McClure (Kuffour 71), Craig.
Unused subs: Horlock, Hause, Stewart, Mustoe.