A LAST-GASP strike denied Oxford United a crucial victory as Shrewsbury Town clung on to their long unbeaten home record.

Matt Richards broke the U’s resistance in the fourth minute of stoppage time with a 30-yard strike which claimed a share of the points.

Lee Holmes had put the visitors into a commanding position, opening the scoring in the first minute and doubling his tally before the break.

Shrewsbury dominated in the second half and pulled a goal back through Mark Wright, but the U’s held on stubbornly to their lead until the late heartbreak.

The visitors’ starting line-up showed two enforced changes from Saturday’s 2-0 win against Swindon Town, with Mark Wilson injured and James Constable suspended.

Skipper Jake Wright returned to fitness earlier than expected from a back injury, while midfielder Adam Chapman started for in a U’s shirt for the first time since the play-off final at Wembley in May 2010.

It meant a switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 as Andy Whing was pushed forward from centre-half into midfield.

The Shrews’ unbeaten run in all competitions stretched back 12 months, but the U’s – flush with confidence from the derby win – were ahead after 55 seconds.

Anthony Tonkin won the ball and found Holmes, who dribbled from the left flank into a shooting position 20 yards out and fired a low shot into the corner of the net.

The home fans grew increasingly agitated at their side’s inability to get into the game and it took nine minutes before United goalkeeper Ryan Clarke got a touch of the ball, clearing a routine back-pass.

Asa Hall came within a whisker of doubling the advantage on 17 minutes, when his first-time shot from 25 yards rattled the underside of the crossbar.

Town had plenty of possession but struggled to create clear sights of Clarke’s goal.

It took the hosts half an hour to genuinely threaten an equaliser, when James Collins, who had just been booked for diving in the area, nodded Matt Richards’ free-kick over the crossbar.

Town appeared to be building up a head of steam when they conceded a second goal on the break in the 38th minute.

A poor corner was emphatically cleared by Hall, setting Johnson away into the Shrewsbury half. The winger took his time to wait for a terrific burst from Holmes, who raced on to a through ball and dinked a finish over Neal to send the travelling supporters into raptures.

The 2-0 lead survived intact until the break, but their goal survived a let-off on the stroke of half-time when Marvin Morgan swivelled and shot wide from eight yards.

It was only a temporary reprieve, as Shrewsbury halved the deficit nine minutes into the second half. The U’s defence was briefly unsettled by an injury to Damian Batt and Wright exploited the space to superbly volley in Marvin Morgan’s cross at the back post.

Scott Rendell cut an increasingly isolated figure up front, so Mehdi Kerrouche was brought on for a tiring Chapman on the hour as the U’s switched to 4-4-2.

It had only a limited impact on the game, as Shrewsbury ratcheted up the pressure in search of an equaliser.

Dave McAllister twice fired efforts wide in quick succession, while Richards curled a free-kick just over the crossbar.

Just as they had done against Swindon three days earlier Oxford defended stoutly in the face of heavy pressure.

Shrewsbury, desperate to cling on to their unbeaten record, pressed hard but chance after chance ended up among the visiting fans behind the goal as Clarke was relatively untroubled.

It lasted until the penultimate minute of stoppage time, when Richards’ speculative long-range strike nestled in the corner of the net.

Attendance: 5,205 (352 Oxford) Oxford (4-3-3): Clarke, Batt, Duberry, Wright, Tonkin, Chapman (Kerrouche 61), Hall, Whing, Johnson (Davis 79), Rendell, Holmes Unused substitutes: Brown, Worley, Marsh Booked: Clarke, Wright, Holmes, Duberry Shrewsbury (4-4-2): Neal, Regan (Wroe 69), Grandison, Sharps, McLaughlin, Taylor (Sawyers 75), McAllister, Richards, Wright, Collins, Morgan (Gornell 80) Unused substitutes: Smith, Cansdell-Sherriff Booked: Collins, McLaughlin