For all the signs of progress in recent weeks, Hartlepool United came up short when presented with a proper test.
A win over Accrington and a point at Bristol Rovers and things were looking promising for Colin Cooper’s side.
However, those opponents will be lingering in the bottom half of the table and, against one of League Two’s more fancied teams, Pool were second best.
Disappointingly for Pool and Cooper, the game ended on a real low. After conceding a late penalty, they then had Steve Howard sent off before referee Jeremy Simpson booked Jack Compton for diving in the area when he should have been awarding a penalty.
Cooper said: “I’m not saying we deserved to win the game, I’m just saying we seem to be getting the rough end of the stick quite a bit.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in to see an official this season.
“I just felt the last five minutes left a bitter taste in my mouth and that of our supporters.
“Not only did we have a man sent off, we had a penalty against and were denied one.”
For the first half, Pool were second best as the visitors were quicker and stronger in all departments.
They took a fifth-minute lead when, despite a swarm and blue and white shirts around the ball on the edge of the area, no-one cut off the pass to Ryan Williams who neatly finished.
Yet, despite their dominance, the Us only had the one goal to show for it and, once Pool improved, they were back level.
Jon Franks was taken off amid a torrid first-half for the right winger and his replacement James Poole was quick and direct.
The equaliser came when the ball bounced around in the area and Luke James, fast proving a goal poacher, turned in from ten yards. Game on and Pool had the impetus but, just like Oxford in the first half, they only had one to show for it.
From a lively counter-attack, striker Deane Smalley stroked in their second.
The decisive penalty was awarded when Scott Flinders felled Scott Davies in the area and Asa Hall.
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Flinders; Duckworth, Burgess, Baldwin, Austin (Howard 83); Franks (Poole 38), Walton (Sweeney 90), Dolan, Compton; Monkhouse, James. Subs (not used): Rafferty (gk), Collins, Rodney, Holden.
Booked: Compton. Sent-off: Howard. Goal: James 47
OXFORD UNITED: Clarke; Hunt, Raynes, Mullins, Newey; Hall, Rose; Williams (Constable 70), Potter, Rigg (Ruffels 81); Smalley (Davies 85). Subs not used: Marsh, Jalal (gk), Bevans, O’Dowda. Booked: Reid, Mullins. Goals: Williams 5, Smalley 67, Hall pen 90
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire). Attendance: 3,799.