Oxford United's play-off dream is over. But what a go they gave it.

The final day proved a big let-down as they were unable to recover from a shock Northwich goal at the Kassam Stadium just before half-time and lost 2-1.

It wouldn't have mattered anyway, because Burton didn't get the win at Torquay that Chris Wilder's men also needed.

In front of 10,298, the biggest gate in the Blue Square Premier this season, Oxford never really played in the way they have done for so much of this second half of the season.

But they could have had it a lot easier had they not been up against a confident and fluid Northwich side, who made it six wins in a row.

Vics stunned the big crowd whenJamie Mullen fired them into a 45th-minute lead.

And although James Constable equalised six minutes from time, after a pitch invasion had held the game up, the visitors struck again in gthe final minute through sub Matty Crowell.

It all ended very flat.

Yet it was all so different at the start.

The stadium, and especially the Oxford Mail Stand, was a sea of yellow and a sight to behold when the teams arrived on the pitch.

Long before kick-off, the atmosphere had been electric, the Oxfprd supporters full of great anticipation and excitement.

Not since the last play-off semi-final against Exeter had the North Stand been so full of U's fans and there seemed even more belief around the ground for this game than there was that night, when Oxford were already one goal to the good before they started.

The positive mood was enhanced by the player-of-the-year awards. Joey Beauchamp presented an Under 18 Young Player award to Sam Deering, and when Adam Chapman collected the Young Player of the Year accolade, the sound of "Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up" echoed around Blackbird Leys.

Moments later, that became "There's Only One Beano" as James Constable deservedly picked up both the Andrew Knapton Supporters' award and the players' player trophy.

Chris Wilder sprung a slight surprise by selecting Yemi Odubade up front with Constable, so Adam Murray operated wide right with Lewis Haldane on the left.

The early stages were a bit stop-start with players from both sides getting caught offside.

But before the quarter hour mark there was a roar around the ground as news broke of Burton going ahead at Torquay.

Still, though, Oxford's players were taking time to settle down, with Northwich enjoying the pressureless situation they were in, playing with freedom, and attacking with confidence.

The visitors had the first real effort on goal. Joel Byrom curled a 20-yard free-kick around the wall but Billy Turley was right behind it.

It was only when Murray switched to a more central position to get moves going, and Odubade taking his place on the right, that United began to look threatening going forward.

Simon Clist did well to retrieve a ball that was heading out, and when Chris Carruthers whipped over an excellent left-wing cross, Odubade met it with a fabulous left-foot volley which flashed a yard wide.

Lifted by that raid, United continued to press and Haldane took on and beat two Northwich players as he darted in from the left, but there was no-one to get able on the end of his low cross.

Vics keeper Ryan Clark was then forced into two saves in quick succession from Haldane and Chapman.

Clist had been playing well, and after good work from the midfielder, Odubade's right-foot shot on the turn deflected off centre half Danny Meadowcroft for a corner.

Northwich were still having a lot of the play, and 15 seconds before the end of the first half, they drew first blood, with a goal which stunned the home fans.

It was all Mullan's work as he turned tothe left of marker Chapman and then to the right, and hit an instant right-foot drive which left Turley rooted to his spot as it arrowed into the net.

It was a real body blow to the U's hopes, and it meant Wilder and his assistant, Mickey Lewis, faced a very important 15 minutes, geeing up the players during the half-time interval.

United fans were again in good voice as they tried to rally the team at the start of the second half, which was only seven minutes old when Craig Farrell came on to replace Haldane.

There was one big scare for the U's fans at the other end, however, as Luke Foster slipped at just the wrong moment and it looked as though Jonny Allan would make it 2-0. But the striker, who had bagged five goals in the last four games, was less than clinical this time, and Turley was easily able to paw away his curling shot, which may have been going wide anyway.

Some of the home supporters were by now aware of events at Plainmoor where, after Chris Hargreaves had equalised in the first half for Torquay, Elliott Benyon had now put the Gulls 2-1 up.

That meant it needed a miracle for Oxford to make it.

But the players, unaware of it, kept pushing forward and continued applying the pressure.

Foster saw a header at a corner saved by the angle of post and bar by Clark, and after a dummy from Constable, Odubade appeared to be tripped in the box, but the ref had waved play on as Farrell's shot deflected wide.

Craig Nelthorpe was sent on for the final 20 minutes and he helped inspire a fightback which brought them a late equaliser.

But the end of the match was marred by mindless morons invading the pitch.

First, one idiot ran the length of the pitch before scaling the fence at the open end, and then two others followed, though it needed Turley to rugby-tackle the final one because no stewards or police were prepared to intervene.

Then, just when United won a free-kick in a dangerous position, on poured more than a hundred fans, from one side of the Oxford Mail Stand, causing a major disruption to the game.

Northwich officials wanted to get their players off and into the dressing room, but play did resume after all the fans were ushered back into the stand.

And from the free-kick, from Murray, the lightning-quick Constable fired in first-time.

It was a brief moment of hope, and further optimism emerged moments later with news that Kidderminster were losing to Kettering.

But right on time, Northwich capitalised on the enormous space they were being given, and Crowell shot home from the edge of the area, Turley getting a hand to the effort, but unable to keep it out.

Even seven minutes of stoppage time couldn't bring the U's another goal.

It was a big disappointment.

But at the end, the players were given a great ovation by the fans.

Everyone had lived the dream. It just didn't become reality at the end.

Oxford Utd: Turley; Batt, Foster, Sandwith, Carruthers (Nelthorpe 71); Murray, Chapman, Clist, Haldane (Farrell 52); Odubade, Constable. Subs not used: Day, Hinchliffe, Hutchinson.

Referee: M Naylor (Sheffield).

Att: 10,298 (119 from Northwich)