JAMIE Cook marked his return to Oxford United with a stunning goal as Chris Wilder's league leaders left Luton licking their wounds last.

After another superb team performance, in a red-hot atmosphere at the Kassam Stadium, the U's have moved seven points clear of the bookies' title favourites.

James Constable and Cook struck inside the first 16 minutes, and to compound the Hatters' misery, they had captain Kevin Nicholls red-carded for serious foul play in the second half following a cynical foul on Matt Green.

But back to that Cook goal . . .

It came on 16 minutes and United were already one up.

A corner was half-cleared and Dannie Bulman slipped it to Cook 25 yards out, and he beat his marker with a skilful drag-back, and then curled a wonderful left-foot shot past keeper Mark Tyler and into the top left corner.

The atmosphere inside the ground was electric, with kick-off having to be delayed 15 minutes because of congestion on the surrounding roads.

Chris Wilder was presented with the August Manager of the Month award just before the start, and by the time he had left the pitch, it really was a cauldron.

The match could hardly have begun in more dramatic style with Oxford winning a penalty, which they missed, and then scoring, inside the opening five minutes.

In fact, Luton began the game the better, keeping possession well and moving the ball around impressively.

But in the third minute, from Oxford's first attack, Simon Clist laid the ball off to his right inside the box to Constable, and he went down under the challenge of Rossi Jarvis.

It looked as though Constable had simply kicked the back of Jarvis's leg, but the referee, who was well positioned, pointed to the spot.

This was at the car park end and Constable strode up confidently enough, but his spot kick was well saved by Tyler, diving to his right.

That prompted wild celebrations from the 2,500 or so Hatters fans at that end of the North Stand.

Yet those celebrations were silenced just 30 seconds later as Matt Green embarked on a penetrating right-wing run and cut the ball back perfectly for his housemate Constable to to fire low into the net.

Luton didn't take long to respond. Following a spell of pressure, Alan Hall sent in a header, but Mark Creighton cleared off the line.

But Cook's sensational second goal took the roof off the place, although it also led to some unsavoury incidents in the North Stand where rivals fans clashed before stewards and police restored order.

Mick Harford's men stepped on the gas as they tried to get back into the game, but often their final ball was poor.

However, Alan White missed an opportunity, firing over the bar at a corner, and Shane Blackett shot wide after running through from the left.

U's keeper Ryan Clarke got down smartly to cut out a dangerous left-wing cross from Tom Craddock with the home defence stretched.

Yet as the visitors kept coming at them, United were able to break with pace whenever they stole possession.

And just before half-time, after some fine interplay, they very nearly made it 3-0 with a sweeping raid that ended with Clist just unable to turn, to hit a shot from close in.

The United players' determination to hold onto their lead was epitomised by Luke Foster early in the second half.

He had been injured shepherding the ball out for a goal kick, but rejoined the action and threw himself in the way of a Craddock shot.

United were heading for another swift conter-attack when Green knocked the ball past Nicholls on the right wing and was simply taken out with a cynical, scything challenge.

Nicholls had probably been hoping to get away with a yellow card, but the ref immediately pulled red out of his top pocket.

With ten men, Luton must have realised their unbeaten start to the season was over, but they kept pressing forward, and it needed a brilliant double save by Clarke, from Freddie Murray and Craddock, to prevent them pulling one back.

Wilder replaced Green, who had been excellent again, with Adam Chapman to try to keep his team on the front foot, and Constable had half a chance as he bore down on goal, but saw his shot deflect wide.

Chapman almost made it three with a 20-yard drive just before the finish, which Tyler did well to just fingertip over.

"We are top of the league," sang Yellows supporters.

And it was a top-of-the-league performance.

Oxford Utd: Clarke; Batt, Foster, Creighton, Kinniburgh, Bulman, Murray, Clist, Green (Chapman, 67), Constable (Midson 82), Cook (Potter 88). Subs not used: Turley, Sandwith. Booked: Constable, Batt.

Referee: Brendan Malone (Wilts). Att: 10,613 (2,331 from Luton)