Rufus Brevett was sent off as Oxford United s play-off push was held up at the Victoria Stadium.

But there was nothing wrong with the U's second-half performance.

Despite being down to ten men, they dominated and were only denied a deserved point by some stunning saves from Vics keeper Phil Senior.

It was a nightmare return for 37-year-old Brevett, who had been recalled at left back due to an injury to Gavin Johnson, because he was also at fault for Northwich s early winning goal.

Then, in the 42nd minute, he reacted angrily to a foul by Richard Battersby and kicked out at the right wingback.

It was just in front of the biggest section of Northwich fans, and referee David Coote had little hesitation in answering the home fans pleas by brandishing the defender a red card.

After a long hold-up, with United's players protesting that Battersby deserved a similar punishment, the ref then booked the Northwich player for his initial foul.

United were slow out of the blocks and they got off to a bad start by conceding in just the seventh minute.

Andrew Smart fired over a leftwing cross which evaded United s central defenders and found its way through to James Dean on the right of the box.

Brevett had vacated the space Dean was in, and the Northwich striker had time to bring the ball under control and shoot past Billy Turley.

It was Dean s third goal since moving from Unibond Division 1 side Clitheroe in January, and not the start either Oxford or new assistant manager Darren Patterson wanted.

The pitch was bathed in bright sunshine on a beautiful day in midCheshire as Patterson delivered instructions from the technical area, with manager Jim Smith seated, at the sart anyway, in the directors box just above.

Short of regular first-choice players because of injury, Smith began with a 4-4-2 formation, with Marvin Robinson and Yemi Odubade up front.

In defence, Mickey Corcoran and Barry Quinn were flanked by fullbacks Matt Day and Brevett.

Gareth Griffiths got a firm header on a free-kick on 17 minutes, but was too far out to trouble Turley.

But the U s gradually more onto the front foot, and Martin Foster brought a fine save out of Senior midway through the first half.

The ball was worked along the left, from Danny Rose to Odubade and then to Foster, and his deflected shot from 18 yards looked to be heading in before Senior acrobatically pawed it away to his left.

Northwich were getting a lot of joy down their left, with Carl Pettefer and Day getting sucked into the middle.

But Odubade created an excellent opportunity for Oxford ten minutes before half-time when he sprinted past Kieran Charnock and around the back of Vics defence.

Yet when he pulled back a low cross, the inrushing Foster was under pressure and sliced well wide with his left foot.

Brevett's sending-off came at a bad time for the U's, who trooped off dejected at the interval.

Robinson, who had looked slow and been unable to hold the ball up to any real effect in the first 45 minutes, did not come out for the second half.

Chris Zebroski replaced him, and Eddie Anaclet took over from Pettefer on the right of midfield.

Zebroski immediately fashioned two good chances for the U's, flicking the ball on for Odubade to hit a right-footed shot on the turn at goal. But the shot lacked power and Senior saved comfortably.

Zebroski then broke down the right to set up another opening for Odubade, whose half-blocked shot again didn't trouble the keeper.

United started dominating the second half, despite being down to ten men, and Zebroski had an angled shot deflected into the side-netting.

But Northwich were always dangerous on the break, with their man advantage, and with the pace of substitute Carlos Roca.

One swift raid, inspired by Roca, set up Mike Byrne for a shot, but Turley had come out to narrow the angle and he pushed the effort over.

United forced a succession of corners, and from one of them, Chris Hargreaves chested down a headed clearance and drove in a left-footed shot from 15 yards. Once again it looked to be in as it arrowed through a crowd of legs, but Senior - despite seeing it late - tipped it around a post.

United must have felt their luck was out when Quinn's cross-cumshot from the right hit the top of the bar.

Turley produced another excellent save, to his left, from Michael Carr's 15-yard blast.

Duffy was denied again by another great save from Senior seven minutes from time, the keeper pushing his four-yard header around a post.

It was like the Alamo in the closing sages as Oxford forced ten second-half corners.

But Northwich held out.