Oxford United were held at home for the first time this season as they failed to take advantage of having an extra man for 86 minutes and the boost of a brilliant early goal.

A very good Grays Athletic side showed good technical ability and teamwork to go with great fighting spirit as they battled against adversity after centre back Jay Smith was red-carded in only the fourth minute.

And in striker Aaron McLean, they had not just the best player on the pitch by some way, but one of the most impressive players the U's have faced in the last couple of seasons.

Beating ten men is never as easy as it seems.Opponents rally round together to give that extra ounce for the cause, they often get everyone possible behind the ball, and breaking down a packed defence can be harder than facing 11 when they attack more frequently and consequently leave more spaces at the back. But, this was still a match Oxford should have won, as Rufus Brevett and Eddie Anaclet delivered a host of balls into the box.

Steve Basham converted one with a stunning goal, might easily have had a couple more, but his striking partner Marvin Robinson didn't have the best of days.

Yet after 20 minutes there looked to be only one winner.

FA Trophy holders Grays had to reshuffle after Smith saw red.

The defender could have few complaints. Basham's clever pass put Robinson clear through the middle and Smith wrestled him to the ground.

Although there were other defenders either side, it was a clear goalscoring opportunity that had been denied and referee Craig Evans had little hesitation in brandishing a red card.

Then Grays must have wondered what hit them in the 20th minute as United scored one of their best ever goals at the open end of the ground.

The goal was simplicity itself. Barry Quinn's inch-perfect diagonal ball out of defence set Brevett free on the left. And from Brevett's first-time cross, Basham got in front of his marker to guide a glancing header in off the far post from 12 yards It was the former Southampton and Preston striker's 49th goal for Oxford and meant he had scored in United's last three games.

Grays boss Frank Gray sacrificed striker Lee Boylan to leave McLean on his own up front, with Jim Sangare coming on to fill the void at centre half.

It was tough on Boylan, who had gone close with a glancing header from Michael Kightly's right-wing cross.

To Grays' great credit, for the rest of the first half it was hard to tell that they had a man short, and they played with adventure, not being frightened to break forward.

Jamie Stuart headed wide from a good position at a corner.

Andy Burgess was Oxford's most threatening player and he had Grays keeper Ashley Bayes scampering across his goal when he chipped in a 20-yard shot which in the end just drifted wide.

Burgess then beat two players in midfield before trying his luck with his right peg, but drove across goal and wide.

Grays had been pushing forward and attacking with pace and menace, and it was no more than they deserved for their enterprise when McLean struck a fine individual equaliser seven minutes before the break.

He left Chris Willmott on his backside with a sharp turn, and then drilled a low shot between goalkeeper Billy Turley and his right-hand post.

United had great opportunities to go back in front just before and after half-time.

Bayes saved Eddie Hutchinson's header above his head after the midfielder connected with a superb Brevett cross.

And the former QPR and West Ham player showed his quality with another brilliant centre from the left touchline which Robinson met with a firm header, but which Bayes pushed over his crossbar.

Jim Smith replaced Quinn with Yemi Odubade for the second half and Oxford took the game to Grays once again.

Odubade struck a snapshot narrowly wide and Hutchinson's looping header just cleared the bar.

McLean continued to pose a big threat to the home side, and after Anaclet had fallen over near the touchline, he hit an excellent angled drive which Turley did well to beat out.

As Grays understandably tired, Oxford applied considerable pressure in the second half, forcing a string of corners, but Grays' ten men defended strongly.

And right at the death, from a good right-wing cross by Anaclet, first Hutchinson and then Robinson, were just inches away from converting. Basham headed another opportunity wide in injury time.

This was one game in which United's strikers couldn't say they didn't have their chances.