OXFORD United’s quest to reach Wembley fell at the final hurdle as they slumped to a disappointing defeat to Tranmere Rovers in the Papa John’s Trophy.

Kaiyne Woolery and Keiran Morris struck either side of the break for the Sky Bet League Two side, who deservedly triumphed in the semi-final tie.

It was one of those nights for United, and in particular Matty Taylor, who missed a penalty and hit the woodwork twice in the second half.

But Tranmere would have felt hard done by if they had not progressed, as they ended the U’s seven-match winning run at the Kassam Stadium in the process.

With the semi-final kicking off less than 48 hours after Sunday’s win over Wigan Athletic finished, Karl Robinson was always likely to rotate his line-up.

The U’s head coach made seven changes, with Joe Grayson making his first start at centre back and James Henry recovering from a dead leg to begin the game in midfield.

Elliot Lee was a late withdrawal due to a tight calf so Mark Sykes retained his place, while Jamie Hanson was preferred to Anthony Forde at right back.

Any assumptions lower-division Tranmere would be a pushover were quickly dispelled, with the visitors controlling the early stages.

United did not threaten until the tenth minute, when Josh Ruffels’ shot was blocked after Mide Shodipo could not reach Taylor’s cut-back.

Tranmere countered immediately and Simon Eastwood brilliantly saved Danny Lloyd’s shot down to his right, before stopping the follow-up as the offside flag went up.

An end-to-end few minutes continued as Shodipo’s shot was blocked and Taylor followed in, but United’s No 9 perhaps did not know how much time he had and his weak effort on the turn was straight at goalkeeper Scott Davies.

Rob Hall then drew a foul from Callum MacDonald, which saw the left back go into the book, only for Tranmere to regain control and deservedly take the lead ten minutes before the break.

Woolery had been the visitors’ brightest player and he shrugged off Ruffels, before advancing into the penalty area and firing past Eastwood.

It was all Tranmere before the break and they could have doubled the advantage, but Manny Monthe was unable to direct George Ray’s flick-on from a corner past Eastwood.

Rovers were then convinced United should have been penalised for a backpass when Sykes touched the ball back to Eastwood, in a moment that summed up the hosts’ first half.

Robinson brought on Cameron Brannagan for Alex Gorrin at the break in a planned substitution, while Rob Atkinson replaced Grayson.

The centre back made an immediate impact as he surged into the penalty area within four minutes of the restart, before being brought down by Morris.

Taylor went for power, but smashed his effort high into the Jim Smith Stand.

Forde replaced Hall and Tranmere’s top-scorer James Vaughan came on for Nya Kirby, before a welcome spell of pressure from United on the hour mark.

Tranmere cleared a trio of corners, but a horrendous mis-kick from Manny Monthe allowed Taylor to escape, only for his shot to come back off the far post before being hacked behind.

Forde swung the corner in and Taylor’s header flicked the top of the crossbar, yet within minutes the visitors had doubled their lead.

Lloyd’s floated free-kick was headed down inside the area and Morris fired home first-time on the half-volley from 12 yards.

Robinson deployed his final two changes as Brandon Barker and Sam Winnall replaced Hanson and Henry, with United moving to an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation.

The U’s had plenty of firepower on the pitch, but a weak Ruffels header was the best they could muster until Taylor nodded wide with three minutes left.

Ruffels’ flick was then grasped on the line by Davies in the final moments of the 90, as United bowed out.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Eastwood, Hanson (Barker 69), Moore, Grayson (Atkinson 46), Ruffels, Sykes, Gorrin (Brannagan 46), Henry (Winnall 69), Hall (Forde 56), Taylor, Shodipo.

Unused subs: Stevens, Kelly.

Booked: Grayson, Taylor.

Tranmere Rovers (4-3-3): Davies, Khan (Ridehalgh 70), Ray, Monthe, MacDonald, Morris (Clarke 90+1), O’Connor, Kirby (Vaughan 59), Woolery (Feeney 70), Lewis, Lloyd (Spearing 70).

Unused subs: Nugent, Jones, Feeney, Vaughan.

Booked: MacDonald, Feeney.

Referee: Craig Hicks (Surrey).