Caretaker manager Paul Stephenson admitted Stanley were out of sorts as their revival shuddered to a halt on Tuesday night.
The Reds came into the game on the back of two straight wins having beaten AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, after which Stephenson said: “We’ve never had the need to have a go at the players, even when we’ve lost, because if they lose they lose honestly.”
That changed at Oxford, though, as Stanley gave away three sloppy goals while top scorer James Gray got himself a straight red card in the 38th minute - just after the hosts had taken a 2-1 lead.
“That just wasn’t an Accrington Stanley performance,” said Stephenson. “We were disappointed with the first goal but it was a great reaction to get back in it straight away.
“The crowd were booing them and at that stage you were just hoping they would turn completely. But then there was the sending off and the second goal was just ridiculous from our point of view and it’s an uphill battle after that.”
Stanley also had the home fans booing on their last visit to the Kassam Stadium, for the penultimate game of last season.
The Reds won 2-1 to kill off Oxford’s slim hopes of reaching the play-offs while securing Stanley’s Football League status for another year.
But the U’s got their own back to register their first win of the new campaign.
Their new manager, ex-Blackburn boss Michael Appleton, signed Brian Howard after the start of the season, along with striker Tyrone Barnett on loan from Peterborough, in a bid to kick-start their campaign. How departed Stanley boss James Beattie would have loved the luxury of bringing in players of that calibre at will.
And both had an immediate impact as Barnett fired wide before Stanley failed to clear a right-wing cross and Danny Hylton laid it back for Howard to blaze over.
The U’s then took a deserved lead in the 15th minute as Howard’s cross-field ball caught left-back Adam Buxton out of position and Hylton took a touch before firing past Joe Lumley.
Stanley equalised just 82 seconds later, though, after Buxton’s inswinging cross was spilled by home keeper George Long. Piero Mingoia hit the rebound back across goal and Marcus Carver slid in his first Football League goal from a matter of inches.
That appeared to stifle Oxford’s early enthusiasm and the Reds enjoyed their best spell of the match, although they were limited to long-range strikes by Andy Procter and Gray.
And having got back into the game, Stanley handed the initiative back in the 36th minute. Oxford put the Accy defence under pressure, forcing Nicky Hunt to play the ball back to Lumley, but the young keeper miscued his kick. It dropped to Michael Collins 40 yards out and the midfielder returned it with interest, lofting it over Lumley and into the empty net.
Things swiftly went from bad to worse as Gray chased a ball down the left wing. He tangled with Johnny Mullins trying to keep it in but then swung a leg at the defender. It barely connected but was a clear kick and the referee had little choice but to brandish his red card.
Lumley made a good save in first-half stoppage time to parry Callum O’Dowda’s long-range strike and keep Stanley in it heading into the break.
But it was one-way traffic for much of the second half as Barnett headed over while O’Dowda fired wide.
Barnett then had a goal disallowed but the pressure told in the 71st minute as captain Luke Joyce attemped a backpass, failing to see Barnett lurking to Lumley’s left, and the striker nipped in to take it round the keeper and tap it in.
And the U’s almost made victory more emphatic as Junior Brown curled one wide late on.
STANLEY: LUMLEY 6, HUNT 5, ALDRED 6, ATKINSON 6, BUXTON 5 (WINNARD 46, 6), NAISMITH 6, JOYCE 6, PROCTER 6, MINGOIA 6 (WINDASS 65, 6), GRAY 4, CARVER 6 (MCCARTAN 80). SUBS: BOWERMAN, HATFIELD, HAZELDINE, SIMPSON. ATTENDANCE: 4,111.