Oxford United's 2008-9 season got off to a nightmare start in Cumbria on Friday night when they crashed to a crushing defeat at promoted Barrow, and had James Clarke sent off.

It was right back Clarke's dismissal six minutes before half-time which precipitated the defeat - yet another shocker for Oxford when they have played in front of the Setanta cameras - as they kicked off their third season in the Conference in the worst way possible.

Barrow capitalised against the ten men with three goals in an 11-minute spell late on.

Midfielder Andy Boyd curled in a tremendous free-kick from fully 40 yards on 71 minutes, a needless free-kick given away from Yemi Odubade as he tracked back, and for which he was booked.

Five minutes later, Mark Henney was too quick for substitute Chris Willmott, and won a penalty by going over Ben Hinchlife's dive. Hinchliffe was booked before home captain Steve McNulty smashed home the penalty, into the top right corner.

And United's misery was completed on 82 minutes when they were caught on the break, with Jason Walker feeding sub Paul Brown, who deftly chipped over the keeper.

There was nothing to suggest such a one-sided second half until teenager Clarke was shown the red card for a moment of impetuosity, rather than real malice.

The teenager was sent off for a two-footed tackle on winger Carlos Logan.

He actually won the ball, but both feet were in the air, and in that sense the ref probably made the right decision because it then becomes dangerous.

His disappointment and anger at being shown the red card became clear to the TV viewers as he kicked the dressing room door as he marched off down the tunnel.

Manager Darren Patterson had started with Rob Davies on the right of midfield and, with Jamie Guy sidelined, Odubade started up front alongside James Constable.

There was a real air of expectancy among both sets of supporters when the players took to the field in bright sunshine.

United chose to play away from the sun in the first half, which looked a good tactic as the Barrow keeper, Tim Deasy, was soon troubled by it even though he was wearing a cap.

The home side made a lively start, which the U's weathered well, Chris Carruthers making one terrific tackle on Walker.

Odubade had the first real opening, following a slip by centre half Steve McNulty, but he couldn't get a meaningful shot in.

An almighty scramble in the box at the other end could have spelled real danger for Oxford, but it was Luke Foster who came away with the ball after some good defending by him, and two of his teammates.

And as the U's came under pressure, left back debutant Carruthers made another superbly-timed tackle.

There was a slick move from Patterson's men on 20 minutes when Carruthers and Lewis Haldane linked up, and Adam Murray struck a decent low 20-yard drive that keeper Tim Deasy pushed around his right post.

But as the first half moved on, so Barrow's menace increased and from a fine run and left-wing cross by Logan, striker Andy Bond flicked a header over tha bar.

That should have been a warning to United, but five minutes later Bond got free again, and beat Ben Hinchliffe only to see his shot come down off the underside of the bar. Some Barrow players appealed that it had crossed the line, but it clearly hadn't.

In between these close efforts, Haldane went close for Oxford with a driving run and shot, which deflected for a corner.

Another of United's summer signings, Joe Burnell, almost found success by peeling away and then arriving beyond the far post at a corner. His header seemed to come off a Barrow defender but the ref awarded a goal kick.

The dismissal of Clarke momentarily stunned United, but with Davies dropping to right back, they held out until half-time.

At the interval, Patterson decided to switch to three at the back, and so replaced Davies with Willmott, which kept the numbers in midfield for United, but still meant every player had to work extra hard.

It was more imperative than ever to try to use Odubade's pace on the break, and he was soon trying to do just that, sprinting past his man and hitting a cross-shot across the face of the goal.

Haldane too started to revel in the extra space as the game opened up, and after good pprompting play from Murray, the former Bristol Rovers man hit a cracking right-footed drive which produced an equally good diving save to his left, at full stretch from Deasy.

But from the moment Odubade gave away that free-kick, and Barrow took the lead, it all went downhill for the visitors - and that's to put it mildly.