Report | Oxford United 2 Swansea City 2 (5-3 on penalties)
Swansea City bowed out of the Carabao Cup after losing a penalty shoot-out following a 2-2 draw at Oxford United.
Jay Fulton had fired home an early free-kick for his first goal since April 2021, before Liam Cullen ended a similar wait to find the net for the Swans when he smartly finished to double the lead.
Russell Martin’s side had numerous opportunities to put the game beyond doubt, but Alex Gorrin’s goal allowed the hosts a way back into the contest they simply should not have had, and Cameron Brannagan’s deflected stoppage-time free-kick sent the tie to penalties.
After seven successful spot-kicks from the two sides, Matty Sorinola saw his effort saved onto the crossbar and it proved to be the difference.
The evening had brought the welcome sight of Joe Allen making his first appearance since rejoining the club, while Ben Cabango got a valuable 90 minutes under his belt and the likes of Cameron Congreve and Ollie Cooper were among those to impress.
Additionally, there were debuts for youngsters Azeem Abdulai and Joel Cotterill from the bench, but the Swans will wonder how they relinquished a position of such dominance in a game that had seemed to be petering out into a routine away win.
There had been seven changes from the defeat to Blackburn as Steven Benda, Cabango, Cooper, Congreve, Matty Sorinola, Nathanael Ogbeta and Cullen came into the side.
For Cooper and Ogbeta it meant first starts for Swansea, while Cabango skippered the Swans for the first time, with Fulton, Ryan Manning, Harry Darling and Joel Latibeaudiere remaining from the weekend lineup.
The Swans had plenty of ball early, but survived a scare when Billy Bodin sent a strike wide of goal after a deep cross had fallen to the Wales international.
But Oxford soon had a moment of discomfort of their own as goalkeeper Eddie McGinty cynically handled outside his area with Cullen bearing down on him, but referee Thomas Bramall decided it only merited a yellow card.
But Fulton made the most of it and he curled a low free-kick around the wall and into the bottom corner to give the visitors a seventh-minute lead.
The Swans were soon on the front foot again, but Ogbeta’s final ball from the left was a poor one and was cut out by Elliott Moore in the Oxford defence.
Ogbeta then fired a firm strike down McGinty’s throat after Fulton had nicked possession in Oxford’s half.
Twenty minutes in and Fulton purposefully drove through midfield to feed Sorinola, and his ball across the box was cut out with Cullen eagerly awaiting a tap-in at the far stick.
McGinty then saved Cabango’s glancing near-post header from the resulting corner, while Sorinola could not gather in a Congreve lay-off.
But they deservedly doubled their lead in the 24th minute when a challenge on Congreve saw the ball roll into Cullen’s path in the area, with the forward taking a touch before sending a left-footed shot through the legs of McGinty and into the net.
The visitors were firmly in control, and the home defence were in action again as Congreve tricked his way past a defender and fired in a low cross that was cleared for a corner.
It should have been 3-0 when Ogbeta reached the ball near the byline and pulled back, only for Sorinola to slip as he closed in to finish.
Oxford made a double change at the interval but the pattern of the game remained the same and Ogbeta really should have found the net when good work by Manning had led to the ball falling to him on the left side of the area, but he skewed well wide.
Oxford then wasted a fine chance of their own, Ciaron Brown heading narrowly wide after a half-cleared corner had seen the ball thrown back into Swansea area.
Two superb pieces of pressing from Manning then ended with Cullen steering narrowly wide from the Irishman’s cross before the hour mark saw four changes, including the return of Allen for a first Swansea appearance in 3,741 days and a debut for Abdulai.
Oxford began to throw caution to the wind, as they sought to try and set up a nervy finish, with Benda making a routine save from Bodin.
But it was a Swansea error that gifted them a way back into the game as Gorrin charged down Benda’s clearance and the ball rolled into the unguarded net with 19 minutes to play.
The home side pressed for a leveller over the closing stages, and it required a fine save from Benda to deny Slavi Spasov an equaliser, after Allen's misplaced pass had given the Oxford substitute a sight of goal.
But the hosts forced penalties when Brannagan's late free-kick struck the Swansea wall and flew beyond the helpless keeper in stoppage time and the home side made the most of the fortune to come out on top in the shootout.
Oxford United: Eddie McGinty, Elliott Moore (captain), Alex Gorrin, Billy Bodin (Slavi Spasov 79), Jodi Jones (Cameron Brannahan 46), Lewis Bate (Marcus McGuane 61), Ciaron Brown, James Henry (Marcus Browne 61), James Golding, Tyler Goodrham, Steve Seddon (Stuart Findlay 46).
Unused Substitutes: Simon Eastwood, Sam Long, Matty Taylor, Oisin Smyth.
Swansea City: Steven Benda; Joel Latibeaudiere (Azeem Abdulai 61), Ben Cabango (captain), Harry Darling (Nathan Wood 60), Ryan Manning (Olivier Ntcham 60); Jay Fulton (Joe Allen 60), Ollie Cooper; Nathanael Ogbeta, Cameron Congreve (Joel Cotterill 78), Matty Sorinola; Liam Cullen.
Unused Substitutes: Archie Matthews, Ben Lloyd, Dan Williams, Josh Thomas.
Referee: Thomas Bramall