SAM Long admitted Oxford United’s slow start cost them dear as they fell to a damaging home defeat to Accrington Stanley.

The visitors dominated the early stages and deservedly went ahead through Paul Smyth’s long-range effort.

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Elliot Lee equalised midway through the first half, but Michael Nottingham slammed home Accrington’s winner after the ball fell loose from a free-kick with 20 minutes left.

The nature of the second goal frustrated Long, but the right back knew United’s task became much harder the moment they went behind to a side missing ten players through injury.

“Every team makes it difficult, especially the way they play,” he said.

“I don’t think we got going until they scored their goal and I thought we were on top after that.

“By then, it’s a little bit too late as they’ve got something to hold on to.

“If we’d started the second half how we finished the first we’d have had a chance, but we’ve been done by a sloppy goal and got punished.”

The defeat saw Accrington leapfrog the U’s, who lost further ground on the Sky Bet League One play-offs.

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United, now 12th, are six points shy of the top six with seven games left, but Long is not giving up hope.

“We’ve got seven games, there are still plenty of points to play for,” the 26-year-old said.

“We need to go into every game like a cup final and try to get three points every week.

“We’re more than capable of going on another run, so we just need to dust ourselves down and go again.”

Long was pleased to play 90 minutes in his first game since March 2, after a hamstring injury and an ear infection saw him sidelined.

He said: “I’ve been itching to get back.

“It was disappointing I couldn’t play on Friday, but I’m glad to get back and hopefully I can play from now to the end of the season.”