OXFORD United shrugged off an early setback to completely dismantle Crawley Town and edge closer to automatic promotion with a goal difference-boosting thrashing in Sussex.

They looked to be heading for a difficult afternoon when Joe McNerney opened the scoring for the home side just before the half-hour mark.

But United’s response was emphatic, scoring three times in a 15-minute spell either side of the break.

Chris Maguire coolly levelled, before Danny Hylton laid on a quickfire double from Callum O’Dowda and Liam Sercombe early in the second half.

They could have run up a cricket score as Crawley flagged badly after going 3-1 down.

Maguire added a penalty after he was felled in the box, before substitute George Waring opened his account for United late on.

It was the second time this season they had won 5-1 on their travels, following the romp at Stevenage in October, tying the club record biggest away win in the Football League.

And with Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle both unable to win, United's advantage over fourth place has doubled to four points.

The teamsheet showed one change to the United side from Wembley.

Top scorer Kemar Roofe, who had been struggling with a sickness bug during the week, dropped to the bench and was replaced by Maguire.

The Scot was used wide on the left, with O’Dowda deployed through the middle alongside Hylton.

Crawley, safe from relegation but well adrift of the play-off picture, started brightly.

Matt Harrold had two early headers – one of which was saved by Benji Buchel, while the other hit Jordan Evans.

United’s new front pairing combined well on 12 minutes to lay on a chance for Sercombe ten yards out, but his left-footed shot was thwarted by goalkeeper Jack Rose’s legs.

Hylton also had a soft penalty appeal turned down, but United could not build on the bright spell.

Instead, Crawley went on to become the more dangerous side.

It took a goal-line clearance from Jonjoe Kenny to keep out a 26th-minute header from Josh Yorwerth at a corner.

United were relieved to concede another set piece, but within seconds they fell behind.

The initial delivery was cleared, but when the follow-up shot was fumbled by Buchel it triggered a goalmouth scramble which eventually led to McNerney tapping into the net.

United were wobbling and it took a superb block a minute later to deny Gavin Tomlin, who had rolled Johnny Mullins in the penalty area.

The visitors drew breath, before mustering a response.

They had threatened a couple of times without reward, before the equaliser arrived six minutes before the break.

A quick throw from Alex MacDonald came back to the winger, whose cross found Maguire at the back post.

The forward took a touch and showed impressive composure as several defenders closed him down to rifle a powerful shot into the net.

Drawing level before the break felt crucial, but the half-time refreshments could have tasted even better for the bumper travelling contingent.

Two minutes before interval Hylton rolled a pass into Kenny, who turned down a shot in the box to square for Maguire to blaze over.

United, though, did not have long to wait for a second goal.

Within two minutes of the restart Hylton cleverly laid off to put O’Dowda away and the 20-year-old beat Rose to shoot into the far corner of the net.

It came right in front of the away fans, who erupted again seven minutes later.

Hylton collected Maguire’s knock-down and majestically beat a defender on the edge of the box, before sliding a pass in for Sercombe, whose poked shot went in despite Rose getting a hand to the ball.

Crawley then went to pieces, taking reckless gambles to try and get back into the game.

United simply licked their lips, counter-attacking at pace with real menace.

Twice in quick succession they charged forward, outnumbering the Crawley defenders.

Rose saved the first from Hylton, which Kenny fired wide on the rebound, while MacDonald was denied at the end of the second surge by the upright.

Further goals looked inevitable and 18 minutes from time it was finally 4-1.

Maguire was upended in the area and after dusting himself down, United’s new penalty-taker confidently converted from 12 yards.

With the game won, Michael Appleton withdrew Hylton and O’Dowda, replacing them with Waring and, for the first time this season, James Roberts.

Another youth team product swiftly followed, as Josh Ashby replaced the limping Josh Ruffels.

Waring bagged his first goal for United four minutes from time, turning in a cross from Roberts, to round off a superb away day.

Crawley Tn: Rose, Oyebanjo, Yorwerth, McNerney, Bradley, Edwards, Walton (Smith 72), Sutherland (Bond 87), Della-Verde, Tomlin, Harrold (Fenelon 55).

Unused subs: Preston, Barnard, Deacon, Dunne.

Oxford Utd: Buchel, Kenny, Mullins, Dunkley, Evans, MacDonald, Sercombe, Ruffels (Ashby 80), O’Dowda (Roberts 75), Maguire, Hylton (Waring 73).

Unused subs: Slocombe, Wright, Giles, Roofe.

Referee: Nicholas Kinseley (Essex).

Attendance: 3,340 (1,476 visitors).