OXFORD United’s play-off hopes suffered a major blow as they were beaten by Accrington Stanley at the Kassam Stadium.

The U’s fell to 12th in Sky Bet League One, while the gap to the top six increased to six points as their depleted opponents leapfrogged them in the table.

Accrington controlled much of the first half and deservedly went ahead through a fierce effort from the excellent Paul Smyth, before Elliot Lee equalised with his fourth United goal nine minutes later.

The second period was more evenly-matched, but centre back Michael Nottingham’s 70th-minute effort condemned the U’s to back-to-back defeats.

United were boosted by Sam Long’s return to fitness and the right back came straight into the starting line-up for his first appearance since March 2.

Anthony Forde was unlucky to drop out, while Elliot Lee replaced Mark Sykes following the midfielder’s red card at Sunderland on Friday.

There was still no Josh Ruffels or Alex Gorrin, however, with neither fit enough to return to the matchday squad.

Accrington were plagued by injuries and out-of-form, but dominated much of the first half with Smyth finding pockets of space between the midfield and attack.

The visitors were sure they had scored after 15 minutes when the ball appeared to creep over the line following a goalmouth scramble, only for the officials to wave play on.

It mattered not, as barely 60 seconds later they were ahead through a real thunderbolt.

Smyth once again received the ball in a dangerous area and pushed it out of his feet, before firing a dipping effort past Jack Stevens from 20 yards.

The goal did not wake United up and they were fortunate to see Colby Bishop head Harvey Rodgers’ cross past the far post four minutes later.

Accrington were benefitting from the U’s attack-minded midfield, but the hosts levelled midway through the half with their first chance of note.

Long was involved in his first game back, sending a ball into Taylor for the striker to hold up inside the box.

United’s No 9 showed great patience to slide a pass into the path of the onrushing Lee, who side-footed confidently into the bottom corner.

Accrington did not break stride, though, and Sean McConville struck the post from a free-kick three minutes later with Stevens scrambling across to block Dion Charles’ follow-up.

There were few further chances before the break, although Taylor almost touched Brannagan’s cross inside the near post during a positive end to the half from the U’s.

It did not signal a change in momentum as Accrington stayed positive during a quiet start to the second half, but the game opened up on the hour.

First, Lee turned his man excellently and fired over from a tight angle, but moments later Accrington raced forward and really should have scored.

Brannagan was unable to hold Smyth up and the midfielder played in Charles, who rounded Stevens only for Mide Shodipo to make the crucial block.

United cleared the corner and Taylor released Lee with a raking 50-yard ball, but this time the Luton Town loanee was thwarted by Savin at his near post.

Sam Winnall replaced James Henry to join Matty Taylor up front and Shodipo forced Savin into a flying save to his left, but it was Accrington who struck the crucial second.

It was all too easy, as a free-kick from the halfway line was headed down and centre back Nottingham lashed inside Stevens’ near post from 12 yards.

The U’s looked for a quick response and went close again, Elliott Moore unable to find a way through the mass of bodies when he fired towards goal from inside the box. Brandon Barker then flashed an effort just wide of the far post, before Karl Robinson threw on Dan Agyei and Forde for Long and Shodipo.

United were effectively 4-2-4 going into the closing stages, but could only force a couple of goalmouth scrambles as their search for another equaliser proved futile.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Stevens, Long (Forde 81), Moore, Atkinson, Hanson, Henry (Winnall 68), Brannagan, Lee, Shodipo (Agyei 81), Taylor, Barker.

Unused subs: Eastwood, McNally, Grayson, Kelly.

Booked: Lee, Taylor.

Accrington Stanley (4-1-2-1-2): Savin, Rodgers, Nottingham, Burgess, Maguire, Conneely, Butcher, McConville, Smyth (Phillips 90+3), Bishop, Charles.

Unused subs: Russell, Perritt, Sama, Mansell, Isherwood, Morgan.

Booked: Butcher, Rodgers.

Referee: Ollie Yates (Staffordshire).