JORDAN Bowery came off the bench to score a stunning winner as Oxford United scrapped to a hard-fought victory at in-form AFC Wimbledon.
The striker lit up the game just three minutes after coming on, running from halfway and picking out the corner of the net with a precise shot.
It came against the run of play, with the Dons bouncing back from conceding Danny Hylton's early goal to pile on the pressure.
Andy Barcham levelled and United had to defend manfully to preserve their lead, but held on to bag a sixth successive away win in all competitions.
With Accrington Stanley drawing, the result saw United move five points clear of the fourth-placed side.
An ankle injury saw John Lundstram miss a league game for the first time since September, handing Josh Ruffels his first action for almost three months.
In the other change from Tuesday's 4-1 win at Exeter City, Hylton replaced Bowery up front.
Dropping a striker who had scored twice in midweek was a surprise, but within five minutes Hylton had taken his chance.
A quick throw from Alex MacDonald found Liam Sercombe in the box and although his effort was saved, Hylton was in the right place to force the ball over the line.
It was his tenth goal of the season and he appeared to relish scoring against his former side.
The game was played at 100 miles per hour, as the sides took turns to give the ball away cheaply.
Hylton came close to a second goal on 14 minutes, when he did well to flick a high cross from MacDonald goalwards, only to be denied by a superb one-handed save from goalkeeper Kelle Roos.
Wimbledon wasted little time building up play - when they got the ball it was quickly launched forward for strikers Tom Elliott and Lyle Taylor.
It was unsophisticated, but they did it well and United came under increasing pressure as the half wore on.
Benji Buchel tipped a header over from Sean Rigg, one of three ex-United players in the Dons XI, midway through the half.
The Liechtenstein goalkeeper showed great bravery in the 25th minute, blocking Paul Robinson's downward header at a corner on the line and he clung on as Taylor kicked wildly.
Buchel looked to come out and punch whenever possible, with mixed results.
He was fortunate to get away with one intervention, when the ball hit his face and fell loose.
United survived but in the 33rd minute Wimbledon's pressure finally brought a reward.
Ruffels gave the ball away just inside his half and Jon Meades broke forward.
His ball into the box ricocheted for Taylor, whose scuffed shot was parried by Buchel for Barcham to slam home.
Wimbledon had the ball in the net shortly afterwards when Elliott powered a header home from a corner, but referee Kevin Wright had already blown for a foul.
The home side continued to press after the break and it took a clearance off the line by Hylton to deny Meades seven minutes after the restart.
Buchel was also forced into action by Rigg as United rode their luck.
The visitors struggled to hold the ball up front and perhaps with that in mind Michael Appleton brought on Bowery for Maguire.
Within three minutes the substitute had produced a stunning moment of quality, entirely out of keeping with the rest of the contest.
The striker spun his man on the halfway line and sprinted all the way into the box, where from wide on the right he picked out the far corner of the net with a low shot.
Back came Wimbledon, who still had half an hour to find a response.
United had plenty of work to do defensively, making what felt like dozens of blocks to keep out the home side.
Buchel made an excellent block 16 minutes from time to keep out Elliott, who had chested the ball down and blasted a shot goalwards from close range.
United inched their way through the half and Wimbledon could not have come closer to an equaliser in the 87th minute.
A cross from Taylor was headed by Rigg on to the crossbar and fell into Buchel's arms on the floor.
It was as close as they came late on, with United running down the clock to see out a hugely important win.
Wimbledon: Roos, Fuller, Robinson, Sweeney, Meades, Barcham (Francomb 65), Reeves (Smith 82), Bulman, Rigg, Elliott (Akinfenwa 79), Taylor.
Unused subs: Shea, Kennedy, Fitzpatrick, Azeez.
Oxford Utd: Buchel, Kenny, Mullins, Dunkley, Skarz, MacDonald (Waring 79), Sercombe, Ruffels, O'Dowda, Maguire (Bowery 56), Hylton.
Unused subs: Slocombe, Evans, Ashby, Ismail, Roberts.
Referee: Kevin Wright (Merseyside).
Attendance: 4,628 (968 visitors).