Oxford United suffered a penalty shoot-out heartache last night as all their dreams of Wembley and promotion were ended in the cruelest way imaginable.

They were taken to extra time and the lottery of a shoot-out on a night of drama and unbelievable tension at the Kassam Stadium.

But their biggest failing this season, that of being unable to put the ball in the net, came back to haunt them as Barry Quinn, Billy Turley and Chris Zebroski all missed their penalties.

advertisement Turley, who had said all along he wanted to take one if it went to spot kicks, then made amends for his miss with a stunning save from Richard Logan to keep Oxford alive.

But he couldn't do it a second time after Zebroski's kick, like Turley's had hit the post instead of going in.

Exeter's Steve Tully thumped the ball home, to send the Grecians to Wembley, and Oxford's fans into misery.

It was hard to deny the Devon side deserved victory. For most of the match, they outplayed United, who were all over the place, not just at the back but all over the pitch, where they seldom maintained any shape.

But Oxford somehow hung in there, and even looked to be in total charge when Yemi Odubade fired them in front in the first half to put them two up on aggregate.

But Exeter hauled themselves level and scored again to take the match into extra time.

The Grecians really went from it from the first whistle, and never really let off .They managed 28 shots at goal before it went to penalties!

When United went in front in the 27th minute, it was totally against the run of play.

Andy Burgess nicked the ball off Wayne Carlisle and played it forward to Odubade, who had space in front of him, put his head down and ran at the Exeter defence.

As they backtracked on the edge of their area, Odubade cut onto his right foot to make the shooting angle better, and then a low shot, which wasn't the hardest, but beat keeper Martin Rice after going in off his arm.

Until then it had been all Exeter, and they had had a goal disallowed, wrongly according to TV replays.

The Devon side levelled on the night six minutes before half-time with a simple header from Lee Phillips to get the home fans' nerves jangling again.

There was a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium with both sets of supporters making a lot of noise before the teams came out.

Exeter started the better of the two teams and United were rattled in the early stages, taking an age to settle.

The nerves were hardly helped by seeing the Grecians put the ball in the net in the tenth minute.

Attacking towards the Oxford Mail Stand in the first half, Lee Elam turned the ball inside from Billy Jones's left-wing cross and Lee Phillips prodded home from close range.

The referee's assistant had his flag raised immediately and the goal was disallowed.

However, TV replays showed that Phillips wasn't offside - so it was a massive let-off for the U's.

City had taken the game to Oxford from the off, with Wayne Carlisle sending in a testing cross from the right that Eddie Anaclet headed out.

United, who were playing with an unchanged team, were again relying on the pace of Chris Zebroski and Yemi Odubade up front, and Odubade caused problems in the third minute when he headed past defender Rob Edwards and then knocked the ball past keeper Martin Rice, who clattered into him.

Rice may just have got a bit of the ball as well, but it still seemed a clumsy challenge. Yet the ref wasn't interested in awarding a penalty.

The home side struggled to get their game going, unable to string more than three passes together, in such contrast to the first leg last Friday.

Exeter pressed forward with free abandon, clearly feeling they had nothing to lose. Lee Elam chipped a shot goalwards, which lacked the power to trouble Turley, but ten minutes later the same player ran 40 yards, charging in from the left with United's players back off him, and fired in a curling shot that was heading for the top corner until Turley pushed it aside.

At the back, Oxford's central three of Matt Day, Barry Quinn and Phil Gilchrist were unsettled and often having to make up for slips by their colleagues. Day produced one particularly crucial challenge to win the ball after an error from Quinn.

Turley got down well to save from Phillips's left-foot drive as it continued to be one-way traffic . . . until Odubade's breakthrough.

The goal helped to relax the U's and they almost doubled their lead in the 36th minute from their first corner, swung over by Martin Foster. Zebroski's headed from the back post was almost turned in, got cleared only as far as Danny Rose three yards outside the area, but he blazed over.

A two-goal aggregate lead at that stage may have seemed comfortable, but on 39 minutes Exeter levelled to get back in the tie.

Matt Gill delivered a brilliant cross from the right and Phillips's downward header from close in looked the mark of a natural goalscorer.

The visitors, who had been quicker to the ball for much of the first half, threatened to score again just before the break. Jon Challinor retrieved the ball near the bye-line but Turley raced out of his goal to narrow the angle and blocked the shot.

Five minutes into the second half, Challinor missed a good opportunity to put Exeter in front with a near-post header from Andy Taylor's centre, but planted it just wide.

Exeter brought on fresh strikers early in the second half, with the dangerous Phillips having to go off injured, and Jim Smith threw on Rob Duffy just after the hour.

Within four minutes of arriving on the pitch, Duffy had the perfect chance to put United ahead again when he raced through on goal with just Rice to beat. He dummied a shot and then rolled a shot straight into the keeper's body.

That miss became even more significant when Exeter grabbed a second goal on 70 minutes to level on aggregate.

It came as a result of poor defensive play by Burgess, who was being penned into playing at left back and didn't looked comfortable.

Burgess tried to flick the ball over Adam Stansfield from a superb long diagonal pass by Rob Edwards, and Stansfield bore down on goal and drilled a low shot past Turley and just inside the left post.

Now United's fans were nervous, their mood not helped by several times seeing the home side just hoof the ball forward from defence.

Exeter, playing boldly and with great confidence, nearly went 3-1 ahead, Stansfield drilling a left-footed shot across the face of Turley's goal and barely a yard past the far post.

Oxford supporters thought Odubade had equalised 11 minutes from time when he headed in after Zebroski nodded on Matt Day's long throw-in, but this too was disallowed for offside.

Duffy glanced a header wide from a Foster free-kick in the closing minutes. In injury time, home fans' hearts were in their mouths as Quinn stumbled and Jamie Mackie had what seemed a simple chance - but Turley came to the rescue again.

And so it went into extra time.

Players on both sides were tiring and mistakes continued. Mackie fired in a fierce 30 yarder that Turley stopped at his near post.

Smith then made a double substitution, replacing Martin Foster with Carl Pettefer, and Rose with Gavin Johnson.

In the second period of extra time, Pettefer seemed to reach the ball before being brought down by the keeper. But the ref, just a few yards away, waved play on. The U's had another good shout for a penalty when Odubade was tripped right on the very edge of the area. Instead, a free-kick was given, though once again TV replays showed that was the wrong decision.

Burgess struck the free-kick well, but the Exeter wall did its job and deflected it for a corner.

The home fans' support in the penalty shoot-out was magnificent. But it wasn't enough.