A first-half brace from James Constable condemned Town to their third consecutive League 2 defeat after a spiky local derby at The County Ground on Sunday lunchtime. Despite a lively showing from Paolo Di Canio's side in the first 45, the hosts struggled to break down an efficient U's backline in a second period which saw the Town boss sent to the stands for dissent.
It was a bright start from the visitors, and it was they who went closest early on, as Alfie Potter seized on some hesitation from Callum Kennedy and crossed low for Lewis Guy, but the striker couldn't get any power behind his eight-yard effort and Phil Smith gathered comfortably. But the Town 'keeper had no chance a few moments later, as U's striker Constable rose unmarked to bullet home a Peter Leven header and give the visitors a deserved lead after 13 minutes. The shaky-looking home side reacted well to going behind, with Leon Clarke and Matt Ritchie going close to equalising, and it was the latter who did just that after 21 minutes. Robins left-back Kennedy looked to have been muscled into the corner by U's defender Andy Whing, but he found space to fire in a pinpoint cross, and Ritchie sprung brilliantly to power an excellent header into the bottom corner.
The U's looked shell-shocked, and came under increasing pressure from a home side who were visibly growing in confidence. They might have gone in front on 26 minutes as Paul Caddis surged into the box and drilled the ball into the six-yard area, but Rafaelle De Vita could only divert a difficult chance over the bar. The hosts were denied again on 32 minutes as Aden Flint
stooped at the back post to header another excellent Kennedy cross goalwards, but Michael Duberry came from nowhere to block it brilliantly. Town continued to look the better of the two sides, but were still striving for another clear-cut opportunity, the impressive Ritchie's off-target 20-yard drive on 39 minutes the closest they came as the half drew to a close. But the sucker punch came on 43 minutes, as Peter Leven whipped in a dangerous free-kick from the corner of the box, which could only parry into the chest of Constable, and the ball ricocheted into the back of the net. It was tough on a Town side who had controlled the half for large periods, but they were left counting the cost of switching off at two set pieces as the half came to an end.
The hosts started the second half brightly, but were struggling to create anything more than half chances - substitute Mehdi Kerrouche's wayward header the only attempt they could muster in the opening 10 minutes of the half. Town boss Di Canio's afternoon took a turn for the worse on 56 minutes, as he was sent to the stands for remonstrating with the assistant referee after he had flagged Leon Clarke offside when about to race clear on goal. That elusive chance came on the hour mark for the hosts, as the lively Kerrouche controlled Ritchie's cross and poked it into the path of Clarke, who could only stab it over the bar from eight yards out when he should have done better. Town continued to huff and puff but Clarke's miss was looking increasingly pivotal as the match wore on - the forced withdrawal of the injured Kerrouche disrupting the hosts' momentum further.
New signing Lander Gabilondo replaced Esajas after 72 minutes, and nearly made himself an instant hero, beating Andy Whing on the left, and cutting inside before seeing his shot well blocked by Clarke in the U's goal. There was only one side showing any real attacking intent as the match drifted into its final 15 minutes, but Town were still desperately lacking any spark as the visitors looked increasingly assured at the back. Substitutes Gabilondo and Connell were looking the hosts' most likely routes back into the game, but there was seemingly no way through a stubborn U's backline. In fact, it was Oxford who went closest to scoring late on, as Constable raced onto Smalley's through ball and side-footed goalwards, only for Smith to get down sharply to deny him his hat-trick. Town did test U's 'keeper Clarke once more in injury time, but the custodian did well to gather a powerful 18-yard effort from Matt Ritchie, and the visitors continued to repel Town's desperate advances until the final whistle sealed what was a crucial win.