TYLER Roberts and Alex MacDonald scored spectacular goals - but few Oxford United fans were there to witness them as the Checkatrade Trophy kicked off amid an eerie atmosphere.

There were suggestions the controversially-revamped competition could see a record low gate for the club, but while that did not come to fruition many did stay away and the 1,575 crowd was the smallest at the Kassam Stadium in nine years.

Roberts’s superb strike was the highlight of an excellent start for the home side and Chris Maguire added a penalty to put them in charge.

But the injury-hit Grecians took advantage of some sloppy play from the hosts and hit back to level with goals from Matt Jay and Liam McAlinden.

It stung United, who found another gear in the closing stages to claim the three points in Southern Group C.

Ryan Taylor crowned his excellent night by grabbing a well-deserved goal, before MacDonald made the victory safe with a finish to rival the opener.

As expected, U’s boss Michael Appleton shuffled his pack, bringing in Roberts, Dan Crowley and Joe Rothwell among five changes.

Goalkeeping coach Wayne Brown, 39, was named on the bench due to Benji Buchel’s international call-up, while Exeter’s injury problems saw 43-year-old manager Paul Tisdale name himself among the substitutes.

The home side looked sharp from the outset and it was rewarded with the opening goal in the 12th minute.

Roberts turned 25 yards out and let fly to pick out the top corner for a memorable first senior goal.

City goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik stood no chance, but denied the West Brom loanee from closer range with a smart save seven minutes later.

United looked set to dish out a thrashing, but their progress was hampered by carelessness midway through the half.

They were thankful to Josh Ruffels and John Lundstram, who saved what looked certain goals with important interventions as City enjoyed a strong ten-minute spell.

It was brought to an end when Taylor, who had looked bright, was too quick for Matt Oakley in the box, earning a penalty which Maguire calmly converted.

But the two-goal advantage only lasted seven minutes.

McAlinden got free down the left and his cross was neatly finished by strike partner Jay to bring City back into the game just before the break.

Olejnik parried from Taylor, who also volleyed wide on the turn shortly afterwards as United started the second half well.

But again a casual air crept into their play and an unforced error allowed City to equalise.

Chey Dunkley gave the ball away in his own half, allowing the visitors to slip in McAlinden to clip a tidy finish past Eastwood.

It was a jolt to the system for United, who belatedly woke up to take the game by the scruff of the neck again with two goals in three minutes.

Taylor restored the lead with a firm finish from just inside the box midway through the half.

It was the striker’s first goal since November and thoroughly merited on his performance.

Another senior player in need of a goal quickly made it 4-2.

MacDonald had wasted one glorious chance shortly after coming off the bench, but made no mistake with a much tougher opportunity.

The winger cut in from the left flank and bent a terrific shot from outside the area which found the far corner.

MacDonald could have gone on to grab a hat-trick as United exploited a tiring City in the closing stages, but Olejnik kept them out.

Oxford Utd (4-4-1-1): Eastwood, Edwards, Long, Dunkley, Ruffels, T Roberts, Lundstram, Rothwell, Maguire, Crowley, Taylor.

Subs used: Sercombe (Lundstram HT), MacDonald (Maguire 62), J Roberts (T Roberts 79).

Unused subs: Brown, Welch-Hayes, MacDonald, Thomas, Hemmings.

Booked: None.

Exeter City (4-4-2): Olejnik, Egan, Oakley (Ampadu HT), Sweeney (Storey 62), Riley-Lowe, Smallcombe, James (Down 62), Grant, Byrne, McAlinden, Jay.

Unused subs: Pym, Watkins, Tisdale, Taylor.

Booked: None.

Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).

Attendance: 1,575 (98 visitors).