Was he pushed or did he dive?

Oxford United officials were studing video replays long after the final whistle to try to find the answer after Altrincham snatched a draw with a highly controversial late penalty on Saturday.

West Midlands referee Andy Hendley awarded the spot-kick for what he deemed was an off-the-ball push in the back by John Dempster on Altricham's Pat McFadden - some way to the left of where Billy Turley was going up to collect a routine cross.

McFadden wasn't even in a position to challenge for the ball, but his theatrical fall was bought by Mr Hendley.

And when Stephen Aspinall fired home the penalty with just four minutes to go - from Altrincham's only on-target shot of the match - it meant another costly two points dropped by the U's.

They had taken the lead nine minutes into the second half through one of Matt Day's specialities, a right-footed drive after collecting the ball a long way out and then riding a challenge.

But table-topping Oxford, who set a club record and a Conference record for extending their unbeaten start to the season to 16 games, have only themselves to blame for missing out on another three points.

They had several gilt-edged chances and got into good positions a dozen times or more only to then fail to finish off with an effort on target.

It was ironic that the two best chances of the match should fall to Dempster, who returned to the side at centre back because Chris Willmott was suspended.

With his penalty concession at the end as well, it proved a horrible afternoon for the former Scotland Under 21 international.

The first chance came when Andy Burgess delivered a free-kick from the left. The ball skimmed off Dempster's head eight yards out when he was unmarked.

And Dempster was in an even better position midway through the first half when Rob Duffy's header from the far post fell to him seven yards out with the keeper out of his goal.

But the former Rushden man miskicked in front of goal.

With Steve Basham nursing an injury, there was a rare starting chance for Yemi Odubade alongside Duffy up front.

Before kick-off, Duffy was presented with the Nationwide Conference player-of the-month award for August, for which the Oxford fans could also take credit, as they had voted for him in big numbers. Odubade managed the game's first shot, in the first fourth minute, a low first-time effort from outside the area which was straight at keeper Richard Acton Just as Southport had done in the last home match, Altrincham stuck a man-marker on Burgess, Val Owen following the midfielder around wherever he went.

Jim Smith had to reshuffle his defence because Rufus Brevett was still injured.

So as well as Dempster coming in at centre back, Day took on the right wingback role and Eddie Anaclet switched to the left - at least at the start.

Oxford were soon dominating, with Chris Hargreaves driving them forward in midfield, without being able to break through.

Day went close in the 14th minute with an angled drive after taking down Barry Quinn's cross on his chest and beating a defender, but it skimmed off the top of the bar.

Duffy also headed wide from Hargreaves's excellent cross from the bye-line.

Despite Oxford dominating possession, it was Alty who forced the first corner, and from it Peter Band headed wide. Just before half-time, after a spell in which the U's had been piling on the pressure, Quinn headed a Burgess corner over the bar The second half continued as one-way traffic, and Anaclet, now on the right, kept delivering crosses which Altrincham had to defend at full stretch.

After Day had broken the deadlock, Oxford fans shouted "shoot, shoot" whenever he was within 40 yards of Richard Acton's goal!

Once again, though, United struggled to apply the finishing touches to good moves.

Anaclet and Odubade combined well in one quick raid, but Hargreaves's sidefoot finish was weak.

It became more and more franctic late on. Burgess tried a curling shot from close in, from Odubade's pass, but Acton saved again.

In stoppage time, after Hargreaves and Odubade had cleverly flicked the ball on, Duffy snatched at his shot, when he probably had time to control the ball and then shoot.

At the final whistle, cries of "cheat, cheat, cheat" echoed around the stadium from the home fans, convinced their team had been victims of a blatantly bad decision.

Smith remonstrated so angrily with the referee that Turley had to pull him away.