Oxford United 2, Wycombe Wanderers 2.

TWO goals in three second-half minutes saw Wanderers fight back from 2-0 down to take a point from a pulsating Thames Valley derby.

Scott Rendell and substitute Jon-Paul Pittman did the damage as Blues came roaring back to draw a game where all looked lost.

There looked to be no way back for Blues after Dave Winfield had put through his own net early on in the second half, with Wycombe already a goal behind.

But Wanderers gritted their teeth in a 100mph epic and showed the tenacity they are going to need in the coming weeks if they are going to take one of the automatic promotion slots.

The match started at a frenetic pace that lasted until the 94th minute but initially determined, committed challenges prevented the ball from reaching its intended target on a number of occasions.

Midfielder Simon Heslop epitomised that when, having made a mistake to gift possession to Scott Rendell, he made amends by hitting Blues’ top goalscorer with a thundering haymaker of a tackle to win the ball back.

It was Oxford’s bruising striker James Constable who had the game’s first opening when his shot from the edge of the box was comfortably batted away by Wanderers keeper Nikki Bull.

Stuart Beavon, whose grandfather Cyril played almost 500 times for the U’s in the 1950s and 60s, showed Blues’ battling spirit when he almost ripped the shirt off Damian Batt’s back as he tussled with the Oxford right-back in a bid to get on the end of Andy Sandell’s punt forward.

Constable was off target with a headed half-chance before Ryan Burge blazed high and wide when he should probably have at least tested Bull in the Wycombe goal.

Striker Steve Maclean then had a shot turned away unconvincingly away by Bull after Constable had turned well and fed his fellow frontman.

But just as Constable was making an impression on the game, so was Beavon at the other end and Sandell lofted a free-kick inches over after the Blues striker had drawn a foul.

Home hearts were in mouths when goalkeeper Ryan Clarke’s clearing kick cannoned back off his defender Jake Wright but in the end it was comfortably cleared.

If that was a let-off for Oxford than Wanderers had an even bigger one when referee Darren Deadman waved away very strong penalty claims when Constable was brought down by Winfield following a decent spell of passing around the Blues box.

Wanderers probably deserved that let-off due to their dogged determination to throw themselves – sometimes literally – at anything Oxford came up with, with Winfield getting to grips with Constable in an x-rated encounter and the terrier-like Stuart Lewis breaking up dozens of attacks.

Moments later though Oxford got their revenge. Heslop’s tenacity won him the ball and he advanced before playing in Alfie Potter, who hammered into the top corner from the edge of the box.

Worse was to come for Wanderers – or so it seemed at the time – when Beavon was forced from the field injured, to be replaced by Pittman.

More of the chances were coming the home side’s way and Bull was out to save at Burge’s feet, but Pittman was desperately unlucky not to score with his first contribution when, having got on the end of a through ball and chipped it over the advancing Clarke he saw the ball bounce over via the top of the crossbar.

Then in injury time the striker burst clear and pulled it back for Kevin Betsy, whose fierce drive was palmed out by Clarke. The ball dropped kindly for the Wanderers winger but his follow-up effort brought an even better stop from Clarke as part two of an excellent double save.

Wanderers started the second half on the front foot, with Winfield heading wide from a corner and United defender Harry Worley going in the book for dragging back Rendell after the Blues striker had picked his pocket as he waited for the ball to roll out for a goalkick.

Winfield’s next contribution however looked as though it was going to kill the game off as a contest after putting the ball into his own net. Potter was again the architect after taking a cross-field ball in his stride before playing in a delicious low cross that the big Blues defender could only put into his own net with Oxford players closing in.

Gary Waddock opted to change things by bringing on the creative influence of Scott Donnelly in midfield but it was fellow sub Pittman who was providing the greatest spark in attack. He sent one shot wide but had had little alternative to backtrack and turn around before shooting as he had little support.

There was still belief from the 1,796 away fans as chants of “We are going up” rang out among the Blues supporters and they had even more reason to be noisy seconds later when Rendell halved the deficit. Sandell raced clear and sent over a superb lofted cross that the unmarked striker stooped to head low past Clarke.

And just three minutes later we were all square. Donnelly started the move by feeding Betsy out wide and having taken on his marker the Wycombe winger sent it over for Pittman to slam home a well-worked equaliser.

Pittman was inches away from getting the finishing touch to a Lewis Montrose shot from a corner as Wanderers sensed victory, with Anthony Tonkin shovelling the ball over from Donnelly’s cross with Pittman again closing in.

Frustrated Oxford boss Chris Wilder made a double substitution, including the surprise withdrawal of Constable, with the game still up for grabs.

Montrose’s shot was touched behind by Clarke and from the corner that followed Donnelly pulled his volley narrowly wide.

But Oxford were just as determined to get more than one point as Winfield slammed the door shut on Tom Craddock after the striker had been played in by fellow substitute Ryan Doble.

Then Craddock came even closer when his powerful shot from just inside the box brought an excellent low save from Bull.

Half chances came and went and in the end both sides had to settle for a point.

Wanderers: Bull, McCoy (sub Donnelly), Winfield, Johnson, Foster, Betsy, Lewis, Montrose, Sandell (sub Westwood), Beavon (sub Pittman), Rendell. Substitutes: Arnold, Murtagh, Strevens, Kiernan.

Attendance: 9,309 (Wycombe 1,796)