Oxford United clung on to top spot as they fought back from two goals down at half-time to earn a draw in a match that barely does justice to the word dramatic.

In a frantic, but richly entertaining contest, Stevenage had two players sent off, one in each half, and Jim Smith's men were kicking themselves that after clawing their way back to 2-2, they couldn't find a winner against a team with nine men for the final 30 minutes.

Yet at the same time, United had every reason to feel grateful because they got away with it in the first half when they made a string of individual errors at the back.

Two bad blunders were punished with goals, yet so generous were United's ill-at-ease defenders that Boro striker Steve Morison might easily have helped himself to four.

And in a madcap second half, when it was 2-2 and United just needed to play with composure and intelligence, they attacked in such a gung-ho manner that when they needlessly lost possession, they might easily have been punished when they were caught short at the back.

Yes, this was a game that often defied logic. United looked much more control in the first 15 minutes, when it was 11 against 11, than in the last 15 minutes, when they had two players more.

Many of the 965 U's fans packed into the Buildbase Stand behind one goal at the compact, but impressive Broadhall Way Stadium were surprised by Smith's team changes.

The U's boss altered his regular back three, putting Chris Willmott in the middle, and Matt Day on the right, so that Barry Quinn could push forward into midfield to try to keep a check on Steve Guppy.

Andy Burgess was employed up front to the left of, and sometimes behind Rob Duffy, as he had been in the first three matches of the season.

Early omens were good, a superb Burgess pass and instant control from Carl Pettefer released Chris Hargreaves on the left, but he delayed getting in a shot and a good opportunity was wasted.

Nevertheless, the U's were taking command by getting on top in the centre of the park.

But after being in command, United suddenly found themselves a goal down as Stevenage worked the ball down the right and had a two against one overlap.

Gilchrist and Willmott were taken out, and Day was dragged across to leave George Boyd all on his own.

Billy Turley managed to save Boyd's shot, but the ball looped into the air and was then volleyed in by Morison, past Gilchrist's attempt to block on the goalline.

Shell-shocked United almost managed an instant reply, Duffy's downward header from Eddie Anaclet's deep cross answered by a save from goalkeeper Alan Julian.

In the 22nd minute, the mood of the match changed in a flash.

A bad challenge by Luke Oliver, who went through the back of Duffy, brought a furious reaction from Hargreaves and in the angry melée that developed, Stevenage's Hasim Deen struck a blow at Hargreaves.

Referee Darren Cann saw it, producing a straight red card for Deen, and also a yellow for Oliver.

Yet the bad dream that United's defence were experiencing then became a personal nightmare for Gilchrist, who unaccountably headed straight to Morison, who calmly lobbed Turley to put ten-man Boro two up.

The half ended with Oxford lucky not to be 4-0 down as an outswinging right-wing cross totally deceived Turley, Willmott and Day, who all left it to each other.

Bradley Johnson, running in, half-volleyed over an empty goal from 14 yards.

United's players couldn't have been looking forward to their half-time pep talk.

Jim Smith branded them a disgrace, and for the second half he threw on Yemi Odubade.

Turley was suffering from concussion, and he didn't come out for the second half, Chris Tardif taking over for his first taste of first-team action this campaign.

Odubade immediately made a big difference, and the whole team were more determined in their tackling.

Hargreaves went close with one drive, a Burgess header was deflected over and the constant pressure eventually told, thanks to a brilliant run down the right by Odubade.

He left Oliver for dead after turning him twice in quick succession and then nutmegging the poor soul, and he crossed low for Duffy to sidefoot home his 14th goal of the season.

Far from lying down in submission, though, Stevenage kept attacking with menace.

Tardif saved a bouncing shot from Johnson, and United were very happy to see a linesman's flag for offside when Morison turned in what would have been a hat-trick goal after Tardif saved Boyd's cross-shot.

In the 58th minute, Odubade knocked the ball past Oliver, who brought him crashing to the ground.

The ref had little option but to produce a second yellow card and send Oliver to join Deen for an early bath.

From the free-kick, beautifully delivered by Burgess, Hargreaves climbed high in a crowded box and headed powerfully in to make it 2-2.

Surely now, against nine men, victory was there for the taking?

Well, United had chances. Plenty of them. But bad decision-making let them down.

Gavin Johnson fired over after a strong run, Burgess had a piledriver well saved by Julian and countless other opportunities went begging.

But United by no means had it all their own way against the nine men.

Stevenage bravely kept two up and both Boyd and Morison continued to cause problems.

One Morison header was pushed onto a post by a fine save from Tardif.

The visitors had seven players racing into the box as Anaclet charged down the right in injury time.

But to the great frustration of U's fans, he didn't cross, was dispossessed, and it needed Day to foul (and collect a booking for it) to prevent Boro making it 3-2 as they then counter-attacked with Oxford, bizarrely, hugely outnumbered.

But it was that kind of game. At the end, Oxford supporters didn't know whether to laugh or cry.