OXFORD United hung on before winning a penalty shoot-out against Sunderland to reach the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on another dramatic night at the Kassam Stadium.

Karl Robinson’s side had ridden their luck to finish the 90 minutes all square, but they were a class above when it came to the penalties.

James Henry, Anthony Forde, Tariqe Fosu and John Mousinho converted, while Will Grigg blazed over and Simon Eastwood saved from Marc McNulty to send United into the last eight for the first time since 1987/88.

Rob Hall had earlier opened the scoring on 25 minutes, keeping his head to convert what was his first goal in almost two years.

But United never looked comfortable and after Shandon Baptiste had a shot well saved just after the hour mark, the hosts were on the back foot.

The pressure eventually told when McNulty converted from close range, but Sunderland could not force a winner in normal time.

It turned out to be costly, as United emerged victorious on spot kicks to rapturous applause.

Hall was among five changes to the side which started Saturday’s 3-0 win over Rochdale.

Two were forced by injuries to Cameron Brannagan and Chris Cadden, while John Mousinho, Mark Sykes and Jamie Mackie dropped to the bench.

United, who also called in Sam Long, Elliott Moore, Baptiste and Matty Taylor, had been boosted earlier in the afternoon by the news the game had sold out.

But the big crowd was almost silenced within 20 seconds of kick-off, when McNulty dragged a shot wide from Tom Flanagan’s hopeful ball forward.

The hosts looked edgy, with Baptiste and Alex Gorrin among those to give the ball away cheaply early on.

It was partly down to the visitors, who had clearly done their homework.

Sunderland packed midfield and pressed United high, which made it difficult to gain ground without knocking it long.

Even when a chance presented itself on 13 minutes, the quick break was undone when Hall slipped on the edge of the box.

The winger required treatment, but was fortunately fit to continue and open the scoring 12 minutes later.

It rounded off a dramatic 30 seconds. Sunderland looked like they would go ahead, but McNulty hit the far post after being played in by Grant Leadbitter.

United countered and had a four-on-three attack which appeared to have been wasted when Fosu took too many touches in the box. His lay-off missed Henry, but fell perfectly for Hall to guide a shot through a crowded penalty area and into the net.

But the goal did little to alter the flow of the game, with Sunderland continuing to make life difficult for their hosts.

And they should have been level a minute before half-time.

Rob Dickie sliced a clearance to McNulty, whose cutback gave Max Power a simple finish but from eight yards the unmarked midfielder fired wide.

The tension continued into the second half, which gradually opened up as it wore on.

It took until just after the hour mark for the next clear chance, when Jon McLaughlin made a save high to his left to deny Baptiste’s effort from just inside the box.

Sunderland hit back to get on top, winning a series of corners to crank up the pressure.

One was conceded in nervy fashion, when George Dobson’s swerving cross flicked the crossbar and was palmed behind by Eastwood.

United just could not find a way to wrest back control and 12 minutes from time the dominance told, when a corner dropped for McNulty to turn in.

The striker had a huge chance to score again four minutes later, but from eight yards his shot was deflected wide.

Long survived a penalty shout on Luke O’Nien, as a shattered United had just enough energy to hold on for a shoot-out.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, Long, Dickie, Moore, Ruffels, Gorrin, Henry, Baptiste (Mousinho 90), Hall (Forde 80), Taylor (Mackie 80), Fosu.

Unused subs: Stevens, Jones, Sykes, Agyei.

Booked: None.

Sunderland (3-5-1-1): J McLaughlin, Willis, Flanagan, Lynch (Grigg 55), C McLaughlin, Power, Dobson, Leadbitter, Hume (O’Nien 67), McGeady, McNulty.

Unused subs: Patterson, McGeouch, Taylor, Connelly, Kimpioka.

Booked: None.

Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).

Attendance: 11,108 (1,269 visitors).