SAM Long scored twice late on as Oxford United kept their play-off dream alive with a stunning fightback against Gillingham.

The right back converted two crosses at the back post like a seasoned finisher to move the U’s into Sky Bet League One’s top six for the first time this season.

The hosts had looked dead and buried thanks to Vadaine Oliver’s opener soon before the break, with former United centre back Robbie Cundy making it 2-0 with 18 minutes left.

But Sam Winnall struck moments later to start the comeback, before Long completed the turnaround - the second coming three minutes into stoppage-time.

Brandon Barker’s absence with a hamstring problem was no surprise, but United were also without Mark Sykes through a knock to the midfielder’s knee.

Mide Shodipo and Anthony Forde replaced them on the left wing and left of midfield respectively, with Alex Gorrin – fit again after a thigh injury – and Luke McNally completing the bench.

Three former U’s players started for Gillingham in the shape of Jordan Graham, Alex MacDonald and Robbie Cundy, while Olly Lee came in for John Akinde to face brother Elliot for the first time in a competitive match.

The game was played on the visitors’ terms from the start, with the ball spending plenty of time in the air and Ryan Jackson’s long throws utilised as much as possible.

United struggled to stamp their mark on the contest and took 15 minutes to register their first shot, Forde shooting wide of Jack Bonham’s left-hand post from 30 yards.

Cundy could have done better with a header that sailed harmlessly wide midway through the half, but both teams’ threat was largely limited to crosses – or throws – into the box.

Forde and Elliot Lee rotated in the hope of making a breakthrough, each taking turns alongside James Henry who saw his effort from 20 yards spilled behind by Bonham 11 minutes before the break.

It was United’s best chance of the half, but Gillingham could have gone ahead moments later when Olly Lee headed wide from six yards following another Jackson throw.

The U’s had moved the advertising hoardings closer to the pitch in a bid to prevent that particular tactic working, but it led to the opening goal shortly before the break.

Jackson hurled the ball in from the right touchline and Oliver challenged in the air, before reacting quickest to swivel and shoot into the far corner from 15 yards.

Gillingham had United where they wanted them and there were heated words as the players went in at half-time, with Evans unsurprisingly involved.

Whether it had an impact or not only the U’s will know, but they made plenty of uncharacteristic errors early in the second half.

First, Josh Ruffels headed straight past Jack Stevens and out for a corner under no pressure, before sloppy play from United presented a great chance to Oliver.

The striker was one-on-one with Stevens on the edge of the box, but the U’s keeper was out of his goal quickly to get the vital touch that sent the ball behind for a corner.

It was one of several set-pieces to bombard the hosts’ goal early in the second half, while Elliott Moore’s header and Henry’s shot were thwarted by last-ditch blocks at the other end.

Robinson brought on Dan Agyei and Sam Winnall for Forde and Shodipo, with the duo joining Matty Taylor up front as the U’s went all-out attack.

Two goals in three minutes followed, but only one of them went United’s way.

The U’s failed to clear a set-piece once again and Graham fizzed a vicious cross into the six-yard box, with Cundy in the right place to convert.

United finally started to attack with purpose and within a flash they were back in it.

The hosts made inroads down the left and Winnall took possession inside the box, before firing a precise effort inside the far post.

United were enjoying easily their best spell of the game, with Agyei particularly dangerous, and they hauled themselves level ten minutes later.

Ruffels and Long – effectively playing as wing-backs – combined to glorious effect, with the left back swinging in a pinpoint cross to the back post that his teammate headed into the top corner.

The U’s kept pouring forward in search of a winner and Long found it three minutes into stoppage-time, stabbing home Cameron Brannagan’s cross for his third goal in two games.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Stevens, Long, Moore, Atkinson, Ruffels, Henry, Brannagan, Forde (Agyei 65), Lee (Hanson 90+7), Taylor (Gorrin 90+7), Shodipo (Winnall 65).

Unused subs: Eastwood, McNally, Kelly.

Booked: Gillingham (4-4-1-1): Bonham, Jackson, Cundy, Tucker, Ogilvie, Graham (O’Connor 89), Dempsey, O’Keefe, MacDonald, Lee (McKenzie 78), Oliver.

Unused subs: Bastien, Samuel, Johnson, Akinde, Sitole.

Booked: Jackson.

Referee: Robert Lewis (Shropshire).