OXFORD United missed a golden chance to break clear of the Sky Bet League One relegation zone as they let a two-goal lead slip against Barnsley.

A morale-boosting victory looked on the cards when Jamie Mackie put them 2-0 up early in the second half.

It was a richly-deserved lead, given the hosts had hit the crossbar three times on top of Josh Ruffels’s opener.

But they could not hold on, with Mamadou Thiam pulling a goal back 20 minutes from time.

Substitute Kieffer Moore quickly levelled the scores after a mistake from Jamie Hanson and Barnsley came closest to winning it in the closing stages.

United held on to at least preserve a point, which moved them out of the relegation zone on goal difference, but given their position with 20 minutes left it will come with a twinge of disappointment.

Reaction - United see silver lining in draw

With no reinforcements in the transfer market, Karl Robinson named the same side which beat Portsmouth in the previous league game.

Before the game the head coach had felt his team would need to play even better than they had against Pompey to get a result against the division’s form side.

Sure enough, Simon Eastwood had to make an early save to keep out a Cameron McGeehan effort from former U’s loanee Alex Mowatt’s free-kick.

Barnsley set out to press United high up the pitch, which created space in attacking areas if they could get the ball forward with precision.

Midway through the half Gavin Whyte latched on to James Henry’s pass he got the ball out of his feet and let rip from 25 yards with a rasping drive which Adam Davies tipped on to the top of the crossbar.

Barnsley dealt with the resulting corner, but United kept the pressure on and won another set piece.

Cameron Brannagan’s delivery was deep to Rob Dickie, who looped a header back into the six-yard box for Ruffels to nod in.

United supporters had no sooner taken their seats after the celebration when the hosts looked certain to double the lead.

IN PICTURES - Gallery from the 2-2 draw with Barnsley

Mackie was put clear by Brannagan with a pass which tempted Davies to race out of his area. The U’s forward got there first and chipped the stricken goalkeeper, only to agonisingly see the ball hit the crossbar.

It rebounded into the box, where James Henry looked set to tap in, but Davies reacted in a flash to get back and save.

United had their tails up and they quickly threatened again, Dickie heading over a cross from Ruffels.

Barnsley looked below their best, but having weathered a spell of pressure could easily have gone in level at the break.

McGeehan twice came close – denied by Eastwood for the second time, this time from a low 20-yard strike, while he headed a Mowatt corner over from close range.

United reached the break in front and Barnsley reacted by bringing on top scorer Moore, but within three minutes of the restart the scale of the visitors’ task had doubled.

The U’s hit the crossbar for the third time when Davies made a superb save to turn a Curtis Nelson header on to the woodwork.

But seconds later the goalkeeper was left red-faced by Mackie. There appeared little danger from Hanson’s hopeful ball forward, but the U’s forward chased it down and got the better of Liam Lindsay and Davies to tap into an empty net.

The goalkeeper’s mixed night continued with another excellent save, this time tipping Dickie’s header over from a corner.

Barnsley were looking ragged, with Liam Lindsay’s late challenge on Whyte sparking an angry exchange between the sides.

But 20 minutes from time they got back into the game when Jacob Brown got in down the left and cut back for Thiam to score from eight yards.

And they were level nine minutes later.

Hanson attempted to cut out a forward pass, allowing Brown to race down the left and cross for Moore to turn in ahead of Dickie.

United needed a decent save from Eastwood to deny Brown a winner at the start of six minutes of stoppage time.

It preserved a point, but the hosts knew it should have been three.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, Hanson, Nelson, Dickie, Ruffels, Mousinho, Henry (Kashi 84), Brannagan, Whyte, Mackie, Graham (Garbutt 81).

Unused subs: Stevens, Long, Garbutt, Carruthers, Sykes, James.

Booked: Nelson, Dickie.

Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies, Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Williams, Dougall (Moore HT), Brown, McGeehan, Mowatt, Thiam (Bahre 71), Woodrow (Green 61).

Unused subs: Greatorex, Pinillos, Jackson, Bahre, Adeboyejo.

Booked: Thiam, Dougall, Lindsay, Williams, Mowatt.

Referee: Kevin Johnson (Somerset).

Attendance: 5,794 (657 visitors).