CONOR McAleny returned to haunt Oxford United with a stoppage-time strike to give Fleetwood Town a smash-and-grab victory.

A point would have been scant consolation for the home side on a night where they dominated without finding a killer touch in front of goal.

But just as it looked like they would inch closer to Sky Bet League One safety with a second successive goalless draw in the space of three days, disaster struck.

With United pushing for a winner, Fleetwood countered and McAleny picked out the top corner with the sort of quality finish the hosts had lacked.

The striker, who enjoyed a productive loan spell with the U’s last season, stood still, almost in shock after the ball found the net.

It certainly stunned the Kassam Stadium, which fell completely silent and there was hardly any time for a response.

Results elsewhere meant United’s gap to the bottom four remained at five points, but this was a body blow considering their control of the game.

Wes Thomas and Agon Mehmeti were paired up front, while Alex Mowatt returned from suspension in United’s three changes from the goalless draw with Oldham Athletic on Saturday.

A back injury ruled out James Henry, but there was a place on the bench for Curtis Nelson for the first time since November as Manchester City loanees Isaac Buckley-Ricketts and Ashley Smith-Brown were left out altogether.

United had created little against Oldham, but here they showed plenty of intent in the final third.

Mowatt looked in a hurry to make up for lost time on his return, curling a shot wide with the first meaningful effort of the night.

The hosts picked up where they had left off at the weekend in terms of work-rate, harassing Fleetwood into errors on the ball.

When the game was originally scheduled last month, the Cod Army were only a point above the bottom four, but a terrific run under John Sheridan meant they were virtually safe.

The visitors had the look of a side playing without a great deal at stake.

Simon Eastwood’s only duties before the break were to comfortably save long-range efforts from Ashley Hunter and Kyle Dempsey, while Bobby Grant sliced another attempt for a throw-in.

At the other end United were doing all they could to play their way back into form in front of goal.

Mowatt skidded a low shot just wide of the far post on the half-hour mark after Thomas had collected a ball over the top from Ryan Ledson.

Todd Kane was a willing runner on the right flank and showed a drop of the shoulder a winger would have been proud of to storm past Gethin Jones on 33 minutes.

The full back spotted Joe Rothwell’s run, but a last-ditch challenge denied the midfielder a simple chance ten yards out.

Kane’s next cross found its intended target and Thomas’s looping header forced Cairns to tip the ball over the crossbar.

United went in at the break just looking for a golden chance – and it arrived inside 12 seconds of the restart.

Rothwell burrowed into the penalty area and from an acute angle clipped a shot wide with Thomas screaming for a pass which would have given him a tap-in.

United were on top, but a terrible error from John Mousinho almost gifted Fleetwood the lead on 53 minutes.

The soft backpass played in Grant, but Eastwood bailed out his skipper with a fine block.

Having had little to do, the U’s No 1 was suddenly busy – palming Kyle Dempsey’s fierce 20-yard strike wide, before saving Grant’s downward header.

An even better save came at the other end 20 minutes from time.

From Rothwell’s pass Thomas twisted and turned in the box before firing a low shot from 12 yards which Cairns superbly turned wide at full stretch with his right hand.

Still United kept pushing.

Brannagan shot wide, while substitute Jon Obika’s header into the danger zone just missed Thomas and hit Ledson, ricocheting wide.

United had a big shout for a penalty when Rob Dickie went down attacking a corner, but a well-placed referee Brendan Malone pointed for a goal kick.

Thomas hooked a volley wide as time began to run out, before McAleny stole the show with a cruel late blow.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Eastwood, Kane, Dickie, Mousinho, Ricardinho, Ledson, Brannagan, Rothwell (Ruffels 79), Mowatt, Mehmeti (Obika 60), Thomas (Van Kessel 88).

Unused subs: Shearer, Martin, Nelson, Napa.

Booked: None.

Fleetwood Tn (4-2-3-1): Cairns, Coyle, Eastham, Bolger, Jones, Dempsey (Glendon 73), Diagouraga, Sowerby, Grant (Madden 67), Hunter, Hiwula (McAleny 67)., Unused subs: Neal, Biggins, Pond, Burns.

Booked: Hunter.

Referee: Brendan Malone (Wiltshire).

Attendance: 6,337 (57 visitors).