OXFORD United's first-team players thought they were in the middle of a recurring nightmare last night when, being forced to play for the reserves, they went 2-0 down at home to Peterborough Reserves.

But they came storming back to win 5-2 in the Avon Insurance Combination at the Manor.

Boss Malcolm Shotton insisted it was a worthwhile exercise to play the side that had been dumped out of the Worthington Cup by second division Luton the night before.

"It was not a punishment to play the first team," he said. "It was an exercise for the players to get their confidence back."

He added: "The first 20 minutes was a hangover from the lack of confidence the previous night, but in the second half, we were in a different class and the players will benefit from it."

It started disastrously for United when Craig Allardyce directed a header past Phil Whitehead from a 17th-minute corner and three minutes later, when another flag kick was only partially cleared, Peter Shearer headed powerfully into the net.

And it could have been worse had Phil Gilchrist not made two crucial interceptions. Gilchrist was everywhere and on the half hour he figured in United's first goal when his shot was deflected in by David Smith.

Seven minutes later, Oxford were level. A long clearance by Whitehead found Andy Thomson, who rounded the keeper to score.

Gilchrist was on hand to deny the dangerous Rowe with another crucial tackle after 50 minutes and it effectively ended Peterborough's resistance.

Oxford then took such control that they rained in 15 shots on the visitors' goal and three goals were netted in a dazzling spell between the 51st and 53rd minutes.

Danny Hill, Thomson and Nicky Banger were the scorers and only a good save by Bart Griemink denied Thomson a hat-trick before he was replaced by Simon Weatherstone 20 minutes from time.

Dean Windass and Joey Beauchamp were spared their second match in 24 hours. Windass ended the Luton encounter with a dead leg and Beauchamp went over on an ankle during training yesterday morning.

Oxford Utd Res: Whitehead, Robinson (Remy 45), Marsh (Powell 45), Smith, Coll, Gilchrist, Banger, Hill, Thomson (Weatherstone 70), Murphy, Cook.

Referee: L Jones (Bournemouth).

Attendance: 168.

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