OXFORD United dropped out of the Sky Bet League Two play-off places for the first time this season as their poor run continued with a home defeat to Fleetwood Town.

There was little to choose between the sides before David Ball's close range finish on 33 minutes.

Antoni Sarcevic's stunning strike from a free-kick routine doubled the lead just after the break.

United, who suffered a third defeat in a row, struggled to create chances as visiting goalkeeper Chris Maxwell had a comfortable afternoon.

After two away games, it was Gary Waddock's first home game in charge.

The head coach made one change from the 1-0 defeat at Dagenham a week earlier, bringing back Tom Newey after suspension.

David Hunt reverted to right back as Matt Bevans dropped out.

Neither side was able to gain an upper hand in a tight opening half hour.

But Fleetwood, still in the hunt for automatic promotion, looked the more dangerous when they got into the final third.

Goalkeeper Ryan Clarke had to get down well to keep out a crisp, low drive from Sarcevic.

At the other end, Maxwell was almost caught out by David Connolly's shot on the turn from the edge of the box.

The Cod Army goalkeeper quickly readjusted to save what was United's only shot on target before the break.

There was plenty of effort from the hosts, but they lacked width as Ryan Williams frequently came in off the left flank looking for the ball.

Nathan Pond should have opened the scoring for the visitors on 18 minutes. The centre back rose unmarked to plant a header well wide, punching the turf in frustration.

The even pattern of the game continued until Fleetwood took the lead, just after the half hour mark.

Sarcevic swung in an excellent corner which was not dealt with, allowing Ball to bundle in from close range at the back post.

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The striker turned provider five minutes before the break, playing Iain Hume through on goal. The veteran should have made it 2-0, but his shot was too close to Clarke, who saved well.

United needed the interval to come quickly, as they wobbled defensively.

Clarke was called upon again, making a save with his legs to keep out Ball as a quickly-taken free-kick caught the hosts napping.

Half-time gave United an opportunity to regroup, but within seven minutes of the restart they fell further behind.

Josh Morris won a free-kick a yard outside the area, going down between Hunt and Scott Davies.

Fleetwood worked a routine which appeared to give Nicky Wroe, on as a substitute for Andy Whing, time to get out to block, but somehow Sarcevic smashed a shot past him and into the corner of the net.

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Antoni Sarcevic scores Fleetwood’s second goal from a free-kick as Nicky Wroe is too late to block the ball

Waddock's response was instant, replacing Connolly and Deane Smalley with James Constable and Dave Kitson.

It lifted the crowd and United looked more purposeful, without really stretching Fleetwood.

Clarke remained the busier of the two goalkeepers, making a fine stop to keep out the lively Hume after Conor McLaughlin's clever pass.

United enjoyed plenty of possession in the visitors' half during the final half hour.

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James Constable has a shot at goal, minutes after coming on in the second half

Fashioning chances continued to be a real problem, though, to the extent that when Nicky Wroe fired a shot from range off target many home fans rose to applaud.

Kitson also had a header saved late on, but Fleetwood never looked ruffled on the way to boosting their automatic promotion hopes.

For United, who have won just once in ten games, some inspiration is needed urgently.

Oxford Utd: Clarke, Hunt, Raynes, Wright, Newey, Williams, Davies, Whing (Wroe ht), Ruffels, Connolly (Kitson 54), Smalley (Constable 54).

Unused subs: Crocombe, Rigg, Rose, Long.

Fleetwood: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Pond, Roberts, Taylor, Goodall, Blair, Sarcevic, Morris, Hume (Evans 76), Ball (Parkin 84).

Unused subs: Davies, Murdoch, Schumacher, Cresswell, Jordan.

Referee: Mark Heywood (Cheshire).

Attendance: 5,679 (160 visitors).