OXFORD United were second best where it really mattered as they came away with nothing from a dominant display in Kent.

Karl Robinson’s side played some terrific football at times, but Gillingham’s efficiency in front of goal – coupled with some glaring misses at the other end – proved crucial.

All three of the hosts’ goals were problematic from a defensive point of view.

Vadaine Oliver was allowed to head in at the back post to open the scoring, while Jacob Mellis was given a second bite at the cherry to put the Gills 2-0 up inside 22 minutes.

United went on to batter their opponents, who threw bodies on the line to protect their lead.

Cameron Brannagan missed a sitter, but Dan Agyei got United back in the game early in the second half.

While it looked set for the visitors to go on and get something from the clash, Matty Taylor wasted a great chance before Jordan Graham netted to make it 3-1.

United finished strongly, but could not set up a grandstand finish.

Josh Ruffels returned to the side for the first time since the opening day as one of two changes to the U’s XI from the previous league game.

Rob Atkinson’s groin was not right, so Sam Long switched to centre back, while further forward Cameron Brannagan came in for Rob Hall.

United were unhappy about having to change in makeshift facilities in the main stand – and their mood deteriorated when they conceded twice in quick succession midway through the half.

After tight opening exchanges, former United loanee Jordan Graham set up the opening goal with a cross to the back post where Oliver headed in from close range.

The visitors quickly had a mountain to climb, when they were caught playing in their own half.

It broke for Mellis, whose shot was blocked just inside the box. It fell kindly for the midfielder, who fired the bouncing ball into the far corner.

Gillingham had been too strong for their opponents, but with a two-goal lead they sat back.

United accepted the invitation and went on to have arguably their best 20-minute spell of the season.

Despite being faced with a packed defence, they moved the ball well to find space.

It culminated in a five-minute spell just before the break when they should have got back into the game.

The clearest chance of all fell to Cameron Brannagan, but he skewed Anthony Forde’s cross wide from inside the six-yard box.

Jack Bonham then thwarted Matty Taylor, whose shimmy bought space in the box before his low shot cannoned off the goalkeeper’s right leg.

Ruffels had set up that chance and a minute later looked set to score himself. Somehow his effort from 12 yards was kept out on the line by Connor Ogilvie, who got there just before James Henry could force the ball into the net.

United’s goal finally arrived three minutes after the restart.

Ruffels’ cross for Taylor was headed skyward and Agyei reacted quickest to scuff the ball past the onrushing Bonham.

It forced Gillingham to come out of their shell and they went on to have a decent spell.

After Mellis fired wide from a Clare mistake, the hosts thought they had made it 3-1 when Josh Eccles smashed a shot from the edge of the area which was brilliantly saved one-handed by Simon Eastwood.

Graham fired a free-kick just over, but United should have been on level on 65 minutes.

Forde’s delivery from a free-kick put a golden chance on a plate for Taylor, but the striker headed down into the ground and over.

It was an expensive miss, as within five minutes Graham’s neat finish from Ryan Jackson’s cross restored the two-goal advantage.

Back came United, who flooded forward in the latter stages.

Bonham saved from Ruffels, while Henry dragged a shot just wide of the far post when well placed.

Sam Winnall was brought on for his debut, but try as they might the visitors could not find a second goal to make Gillingham nervous.

Gillingham (4-3-3): Bonham, Jackson, Tucker, Medley, Ogilvie, Drysdale, Mellis (MacDonald 84), Eccles, Graham, Samuel (Woods 90), Oliver (Akinde 90).

Unused subs: Walsh, Maghoma, McKenzie, Coyle.

Booked: Drysdale, Graham.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, Clare, Long, Moore, Ruffels, Kelly (Hall 80), Forde, Brannagan, Henry, Taylor, Agyei (Winnall 77).

Unused subs: Stevens, Hanson, Gorrin, McGuane, Sykes.

Booked: None.

Referee: Thomas Bramall (Sheffield).