OXFORD United ground out what could be a useful point against struggling Stevenage after they played for more than 70 minutes with ten men.

John Lundstram was dismissed early on for taking a risk diving into a tackle on Michael Tonge, leaving the hosts in trouble.

Liam Sercombe had a penalty saved just before the break, only to come up trumps with the opening goal just before the hour.

But Stevenage hit back to level through Byron Harrison, in what was the final clear chance of the game.

With most of the sides chasing them in Sky Bet League Two winning, the U's advantage over the pack was reduced to four points ahead of the trip to Cambridge United on Easter Monday.

Skipper Jake Wright returned for the first time since mid-February as one of three changes for the home side.

It allowed Johnny Mullins to switch to right back in the absence of Jonjoe Kenny, while Danny Hylton and Jordan Bowery replaced Callum O'Dowda and George Waring.

In the spring sunshine United made a bright start.

Lundstram blasted a first-time shot over, while Kemar Roofe glanced a header wide from Alex MacDonald's early corner.

But United's rhythm was upset in the 17th minute, when they were reduced to ten men.

Lundstram crashed into a tackle with Michael Tonge near the halfway line, which saw referee Paul Tierney produce a straight red card.

United appealed the midfielder had won the ball, but it was an unnecessarily aggressive challenge which forced the official to make a decision.

It also came five months on from the previous meeting, when Tonge was sent off for a rash tackle on Lundstram.

The former Everton trainee came off shaking his head, perhaps contemplating the fact, barring a successful appeal, he will miss next Sunday's trip to Wembley through suspension.

The more pressing problem came in the short-term, with United facing well over an hour with ten men.

Head coach Michael Appleton remained adventurous, keeping Roofe and Bowery up front.

Stevenage saw plenty of the ball, but with Wright and Dunkley playing well they had few sights of goal.

The exception was in the 43rd minute, when Greg Luer fired a whisker wide of Benji Buchel's left-hand post.

United sought to be positive and get men forward when they could, with Sercombe covering plenty of ground in the middle of the park.

In stoppage time they were given a golden opportunity to open the scoring, when Hylton was pulled over in the area by Jamie Jones.

The goalkeeper avoided a red card, but while he was being cautioned Sercombe and Roofe squabbled over who would take the spot kick.

Sercombe won the argument, only to see his poor effort blocked by Jones.

It was a low moment and United's minds still looked scrambled at the start of the second half, when MacDonald dived in recklessly on Dale Gorman.

The home side needed some inspiration - and just before the hour they got it from the two players who had fallen out over the penalty.

Roofe worked some space for himself down the left and his cross picked out a sprinting Sercombe, who collected the ball before slamming home.

The home fans had already done a good job at keeping the atmosphere upbeat and the whole ground erupted with the breakthrough.

It felt like a hugely significant moment and it was the best atmosphere the Kassam Stadium had seen since the FA Cup win over Swansea City in January.

But the lead lasted only ten minutes.

The referee waved play on when Roofe appeared to be fouled near the halfway line and Stevenage broke to capitalise on a lapse in concentration which allowed Luer to set up Harrison to slot home from ten yards.

There was still a quarter of the game to play and both sides looked unsure whether to stick or twist.

United showed plenty of intent, but neither goalkeeper was tested in the closing stages as the points were shared.

Only time will tell if it was a good result for Appleton's men, who would have surely fancied their chances of taking all three points if they had kept 11 men on the field.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Buchel, Mullins, Dunkley, Wright, Skarz, MacDonald, Sercombe, Lundstram, Hylton, Roofe, Bowery.

Subs used: Ruffels (MacDonald 54), Waring (Bowery 76) Unused subs: Slocombe, Long, Ashby, Giles, Maguire.

Booked: MacDonald.

Sent off: Lundstram.

Stevenage (4-4-2): Jones, Keane, Wells (Johnson 90), Wilkinson, Okimo, Gorman, Pritchard (Conlon 79), Tonge (Pett HT), Keane, Parrett, Luer, Harrison.

Unused subs: Day, Whelpdale, Mulraney, Adams.

Booked: Parrett, Jones, Pritchard.

Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

Attendance: 7,980 (262 visitors).