Substitutes Yemi Odubade and Matt Day maintained Oxford United's 100 per cent home record in front of the biggest crowd in the Nationwide Conference this season.

More than 6,000 saw Jim Smith's men earn an exciting 2-1 victory the hard way against St Albans City after midfielder Chris Hargreaves was sent off midway through the second half for violent conduct.

Last year's U's skipper was adjudged to have made an over-the-top tackle on St Albans' Tom Davis in the middle of the pitch, and Essex referee Nick Kinserley brandished the red card.

But just two minutes later, United got the breakthrough they deserved when Rob Duffy headed Chris Willmott's long ball down forwards and Odubade was on it in a flash, sticking out his leg to guide a shot precisely past goalkeeper Paul Bastock.

That was high-flying Oxford's 23rd effort on target as they pummeled the Saints' goal.

But out of nowhere, Colin Lippiatt's part-timers snatched an equaliser in the 83rd minute. Centre back Dave Theobald met Adam Wilde's corner sweetly, and his firm header flew into the net.

Yet Oxford, who have shown their resilience several times already this season, hit back to regain the lead just 30 seconds later.

Fullback Day wriggled through a challenge on the left edge of the area and hammered an unstoppable drive past Bastock and into the roof of the net.

It was a hard-earned win for the U's with former Boston keeper Bastock defying them time and time again with a succession of top-class saves.

Odubade really should have scored moments before Hargreaves's dismissal when Duffy slipped a pass to him. He raced forward with just Bastock to beat, and his shot was on target, but Bastock stuck out a leg to turn it for a corner.

Marvin Robinson's debut for Oxford United turned into disappointment as he had to go off after just 21 minutes.

The striker, signed on transfer deadline day from Macclesfield Town, was thrown straight into the U's attack alongside Rob Duffy, with Steve Basham still sidelined by his back injury.

Oxford really should have been out of sight before half-time as they dominated possession and put the Saints defence under massive pressure.

Duffy had an effort well saved by Paul Bastock in the opening 30 seconds, when Andy Burgess put him through with a defence-splitting pass.

Duffy also went close with a downward header from Chris Hargreaves' fine left-wing cross, and the busy striker felt rightly aggrieved moments later when he didn't get a free-kick after being barged to the ground by Damian Batt. Referee Nick Kinseley was close by but simply waved play on.

It was becoming one-way traffic as United came forward in wave after wave of attacks.

But when they did get the ball into the back of the net, in the 13th minute, it was disallowed.

Carl Pettefer's deflected 25-yard shot was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Bastock, and although Duffy beat Robinson in a race to the loose ball and tucked it away, a linesman had already flagged him offside.

Robinson directed a glancing header just wide from Burgess's left-wing cross.

But a couple of minutes later he appeared to have his hand stepped on by a St Albans defender as he fell to the ground, winning a free-kick just outside the box, and he left the field with a suspected dislocated finger.

Colin Lippiatt's side were enjoying the wide open spaces of the ground, and the excellent playing surface. They almost took a shock lead against the run of play on 25 minutes when they outnumbered Oxford on a swift counter-attack.

The ball was spread quickly to the right edge of the area where Matt Hann was arriving, but U's skipper Phil Gilchrist got in just the right position to deflect Hann's shot for a corner.

Jim Smith's men suffered a further injury blow when left wingback Gavin Johnson hobbled off after pulling a hamstring.

With two of their starting players missing, United were understandably struggling to get their normal rhythm and Hann foiund the space to fire in a left-footed shot from 25 yards which flew high over the bar.

Paul Hakim also caused problems for the home defence by dribbling to the bye-line and crossing dangerously, with Gilchrist having to clear from just in front of his line.

Odubade was harshly booked for a block tackle on Damian Batt, and the referee continued to make some baffling decisions.

There seemed to be a clear passback from defender Lee Flynn to Bastock, but the ref, only a few yards away, declined to give a free-kick.

The excellent Eddie Anaclet several times set up Oxford attacks with his trickery on the right, and after one fine run, his cross-shot whictled past the far post.

The first half ended with Odubade firing in a superb shot on the tunr after further good play from Anaclet.

It had been an eventful, if goalless first half.

And then the second half exploded with action and drama, and ten-man Oxford's two goals took them back to the top of the Conference.

They almost got a third goal just before the finish, when their third substitute, Eddie Hutchinson, struck the top of the bar from 25 yards.