Oxford United gave their poorest performance of the season by some way as they surrendered their 18-match unbeaten league start to a much quicker, sharper and energetic Gravesend side.

Onome Sodje settled the contest with a 69th-minute winner after pouncing on Charlie MacDonald's pass and knocking the ball past goalkeeper Billy Turley as he and Rufus Brevett collided, before firing into an empty net.

But that solitary goal doesn't tell half the story.

Much the better side throughout, Gravesend should have won more comfortably.

The lacklustre showing from a great many United players will be a worry to manager Jim Smith.

They just didn't seem switched on, and were immediately on the back foot against a Fleet side who constantly ran at them in midfield, made great inroads down the left, and who frequently caused big problems at the multitude of corners they forced.

The U's never got going, and were almost non-existent as an attacking force.

It was a difficult first match for new loan signing Jamie Slabber, but in his defence, he didn't get anything like the service he was probably hoping for in a top-of-the-table side.

Maybe United's midfield got carried away with the good reviews they had got at Wycombe seven days earlier. Collectively, they were as bad in this game as they were good at Adams Park.

Smith too may wonder whether he should have switched from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 earlier because, with his wingbacks seldom in space to offer their support, the central midfield three seemed to be always outnumbered.

Gravesend's stadium was like a throwback to the old non-League days of ramshackle grounds with corrugated iron roofs and, for most of United's fans behind one goal, that meant standing again on an uncovered terrace.

The pitch was tight and Oxford, who took a while to wake up, soon found their opponents in their face and taking the game to them.

Gravesend were quicker to the ball and had much the better of the first 25 minutes when the U's were fortunate to escape without conceding.

Teenager Sodje caused problems with his direct running down the left, and Oxford didn't deal with corners with any assurance.

Turley saved a close-range shot from Fleet's second corner, in the sixth minute, and three minutes later MacDonald, the Conference's leading scorer, missed a great chance to put his side ahead.

Sodje threaded the ball through to MacDonald, who got the better of Barry Quinn. But with only Turley to beat, he screwed his shot wide of the far post.

Slabber produced a good first touch, a simple neat header to his right to set Andy Burgess free, and his hold-up play and flick-ons earmarked him as a decent replacement for the injured Rob Duffy.

Gravesend midfielder Danny Slatter was spoken to for a dangerously high challenge on Carl Pettefer, and from Burgess's free-kick, Chris Willmott headed narrowly wide when he arrived at the back post.

Phil Gilchrist was shown the yellow card for a foul on Ross Smith, which seemed far less reckless than Slatter's challenge.

The U's continued to be troubled, though, at corners.

With bright sunshine, it was a surprise that Turley didn't feel the need for a cap.

There were accusing glances in the goalkeeper's direction when he didn't come for a right-wing flag-kick and Smith climbed above the Oxford defence to head over from just five yards out.

When the play switched to the other end, the visitors went close to a breakthrough with Burgess crossing from the left touchline and seeing the ball deflected just past the far post by home defender Peter Hawkins, as Slabber tried to come in on it on the right edge of the box.

Only a terrific save by Turley in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half enabled the U's to go into the break level.

From another left-wing cross, MacDonald connected with a clean downward header from eight yards out that looked a certain goal. However, Turley, diving to his right, turned it aside.

United's keeper made an equally important save five minutes into the second half when Mark Ricketts's cross deflected off the back of Chris Hargreaves.

Turley changed direction and clawed the ball out of the air high to his left.

The second half became scrappy and in midfield, especially, little more than a battle to win the ball, with few opportunities created.

The ineffectual Steve Basham was replaced by Yemi Odubade on the hour, and eight minutes later, Gavin Johnson took over from Slabber.

Johnson slotted into the left side of midfield, with Burgess moving up front and the visitors switching to 4-4-2.

But before they really had time to get used to anything new, the U's fell behind.

MacDonald made a break on the left, and when he stabbed the ball forward, Brevett and Turley crashed into each other as they tried to clear the danger.

Sodje pounced onto the loose ball to fire into an empty net.

United mounted only occasional attacks as they tried to respond, and most of those were meat and drink to the likes of Paul McCarthy, the former United defender, who was outstanding at the back for Gravesend.

Four minutes from time, on a swift break out of defence, MacDonald was brought down just inside his own half by Eddie Anaclet, who was booked.

It was fortunate for him that Pettefer had managed to get goalside, otherwise it might have been a red card.

Stacy Long, one of several outstanding Gravesend players on the day, angered Gilchrist and other United players by trying to get Anaclet sent off, and there was a brief scuffle.

The visitors hadn't managed a shot on target all match, and near the end Brevett was substituted, nursing an injury.

All in all, it just wasn't Oxford United's day.