JON Meades struck against his former side as Oxford United stayed in the relegation battle in Sky Bet League One with a defeat at AFC Wimbledon.

It was the difference between the sides in a tight game, where Wimbledon did their survival hopes the power of good at United’s expense.

Meades, who made just ten appearances for the U’s in an injury-hit spell, converted from close range after being left unmarked at a free-kick.

It restored a lead which Wimbledon had originally taken via an extraordinarily soft penalty decision, converted by Lyle Taylor.

Todd Kane was the unlucky party, but he shrugged off the setback to quickly equalise when Isaac Buckley-Ricketts’s shot rebounded into his path.

The visitors were unable to build on the equaliser, though, and are now just four points above the relegation zone with 11 games remaining.

Cameron Brannagan was handed his long-awaited debut in one of two changes from United’s draw at Northampton Town a fortnight earlier.

Josh Ruffels was also included in the XI, as James Henry and Alex Mowatt dropped to the bench.

Derek Fazackerley, still in caretaker charge, had called for a fast start and Ryan Ledson took him at his word – trying an effort from the halfway line which dropped wide with just 11 seconds on the clock.

It set the tone for a bright opening. Only Barry Fuller’s quick-thinking denied Isaac Buckley-Ricketts in the second minute, with the full back clearing the header off the line.

Wimbledon took time to threaten, but soon warmed to their task.

A quick break in the 16th minute found Taylor, whose curled shot from the edge of the penalty area was only inches off target.

His strike partner, Cody McDonald, should have opened the scoring three minutes later. John Mousinho’s mistake allowed the striker a clear chance in the box, but he could only find the side netting.

In between, Ruffels had seen a shot blocked by former U’s loanee George Long, before slicing the rebound out for a throw-in.

While United were more fluent on the ball, there was little to separate the sides – until an inexplicable decision in the 32nd minute.

A ball into the U’s box fell for Kane, who looked certain to clear before slipping. Forrester was a couple of yards behind, but clumsily fell over the prone full back.

To the visitors’ disbelief, referee Christopher Sarginson pointed to the spot, from where Taylor sent Eastwood the wrong way for his 16th goal of the season.

It was a decision which could have affected United, but they did well to level within only six minutes.

Ledson emerged from a pack of players just inside the Dons half and found Buckley-Ricketts.

The Manchester City loanee’s 20-yard shot was straight at Long, but the goalkeeper’s parry was poor and rebounded for Kane to crisply slam in the rebound.

Wimbledon made a double change at the break, switching from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3.

It saw the chances dry up at both ends, with Ledson’s speculative volley from near the touchline and a similarly ambitious long-range free-kick from Brannagan – both comfortably dealt with by Long – the only real efforts on goal.

It was then United’s turn for a double change, throwing Wes Thomas and Gino van Kessel on.

Thomas quickly had a glorious chance to score, but when Deji Oshilaja fluffed his header, the striker’s shot lacked conviction.

It looked even worse four minutes later, when United fell behind.

Taylor was again involved, whipping in free-kick which was not cleared and somehow the ball found its way for an unmarked Meades to scuff a shot from an acute angle which found the far corner.

There was still almost a quarter of the game remaining, but United could not create the clear chance they needed to draw level again.

It meant a sixth defeat in their last eight league games, increasing fears of relegation.

AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2): Long, Fuller, Oshilaja, Charles, Francomb, Abdou, Trotter, Forrester (Soares 86), Barcham(Meades HT), Taylor, McDonald (Pigott HT).

Unused subs: McDonnell, Nightingale, Parrett, Kaja.

Booked: Forrester.

Oxford Utd (4-2-3-1): Eastwood, Kane, Dickie, Mousinho, Smith-Brown, Ledson, Ruffels, Buckley-Ricketts (Van Kessel 63), Brannagan, Ricardinho (Henry 80), Obika (Thomas 63).

Unused subs: Shearer, Martin, Mowatt, Napa.

Booked: Thomas, Brannagan.

Referee: Christopher Sarginson (Staffordshire).

Attendance: 4,592 (743 visitors).