CRAIG McAllister made a dream return to Oxford United's attack by scoring in just 51 seconds at Plainmoor last night.

But former United striker Chris Zebroski scored a goal in each half to bring second-placed Torquay back into it, and they then struck again with a penalty.

Oxford pulled a goal back with a penalty three minutes from time, after Justin Richards was brought down by Chris Robertson.

This Blue Square Premier game was one that the U's really should have got something from.

But Matt Day made a crucial mistake, leaving Zebroski on his own at the back post to net Torquay's second, and Michael Howard gave away a spot kick for handball just 60 seconds later.

Zebroski showed what a class act he is by netting his 15th and 16th goals of the season but United also looked good going forward themselves at times.

There are always plenty of goals when these teams meet. The two sides had fought out a 3-3 draw at the Kassam Stadium earlier in the season.

It really was the perfect start for the U's, as they scored virtually straight from the kick-off.

McAllister started the move by heading neatly to Matt Green on his right. Green then beat his marker and crossed to the feet of McAllister, who turned neatly and fired a shot from 16 yards past keeper Simon Rayner.

Manager Darren Patterson had chosen McAllister ahead of Justin Richards, and the former Grays striker instantly justified that selection.

Five minutes later, Green turned and fired in a low shot from the edge of the area that Rayner saved low to his right.

The U's, playing in all blue because Torquay wear yellow, were looking confident on the break, with Eddie Anaclet seeing plenty of the ball and playing well on the right wing.

Indeed, they had a glorious chance to make it 2-0 when plenty of players joined a penetrating attack, but Murray elected to go it alone rather than pass to an unmarked Phil Trainer to his right, and blazed over the bar.

Some of Trainer's, and Murray's free-kicks and corners were of a good quality, Torquay having to defend well to stop any Oxford player getting on the end of them.

The Gulls did at last have an effoprt on goal themselves, from a corner, when ex-U's centre forward Tim Sills headed just wide of the far post.

Chris Hargreaves also brought a save from Billy Turley with another header at a corner.

The game was very open, and a far better spectacle than United's match at Weymouth three days earlier.

Zebroski was always a threat with his pace, and he sprinted past Matt Day before cutting in from the left, only to finish with a weak shot that Turley got comfortably down to save.

Turley then showed good agility to paw away Zebroski's cross after another break down the left.

United were having to back-peddle more and more as the half wore on, though they still had occasional forays.

An Anaclet shot looked to be going in but was blocked by defender Chris Todd.

But five minutes before half-time, Torquay put together a well-worked move through the middle, and Zebroski overlapped in space on the left.

It was played from Lee Mansell to Lee Phillips to Sills and Zebroski's shot seemed to deflect slightly off Barry Quinn as he went in for the challenge and crept in past Turley at the near post, the keeper appearing to get a hand to the shot but unable to keep it out.

Patterson brought on Riuchards for McAllister for the second half.

Within 40 seconds of the restart Torquay striker Lee Phillips burst into the box and flung himself over the leg of Quinn - and was booked for diving.

Midway through the second half Zebroski again cut inside past a couple of players but his fierce low drive was straight at Turley.

The visitors carved out one good chance on 68 minutes when Green met Trainer's left-wing cross with a downward header beyond the far post, but Todd turned it for a corner.

The finale was dramatic, with Zebroski scoring on 78 minutes when Lee Mansell's cross was helped on by Phillips, and Day had left him on his own by drifting inside.

And then a penalty for each side made for an exciting last few minutes.