CHRIS Allen was full of pride for his Oxford United side as they gave Cardiff City a fright on the way to a 3-2 defeat in the FA Youth Cup fourth round last night.
The Premier League side clinically built a 2-0 lead by half-time through Macauley Southam and Abdi Noor.
The visitors looked well on the way to a straightforward victory at Didcot Town’s Loop Meadow, but United hit back.
Josh Ashby coolly scored two penalties either side of a superb free-kick from Tom Burridge.
James Roberts came within a whisker of forcing extra time when he crashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar in the 89th minute.
It rebounded to safety, much to the relief of a rattled Cardiff.
Allen, United’s youth team manager, rued a slow start, but felt his side deserved enormous credit.
He said: “Cardiff are a Premier League side and we are a League Two club, but our players are disappointed in there.
“They thought they could go through, and my view is if they had a bit more belief early on, then maybe something would have turned up.
“But for the second-half performance, I was really proud of them.
“I thought we played better than them at times, I can’t really fault our lads.”
United’s cup run included away wins at Swansea City and Southend United in what was the club’s best run in the competition for a decade.
Allen urged his young talents to make the most of the experience as they look to earn professional contracts.
He said: “They need to keep showing that same spirit and do it consistently.
“It’s been good for them to realise what it’s like.”
Cardiff, whose starting XI contained five players who had represented Wales at youth level, will go on to host Chelsea in the last 16.
Oxford Utd: Martin, Clarke, Cundy, McCormack, Grant, Hackett, George, Ashby, Humphreys, Roberts, Calvin (Hayden 76).
Unused subs: Conte, Jeacock, Welch-Hayes, Golden.
Cardiff: Massaro, Rees, C Watkins, James (Wickham 76), Tutonda, Southam (Patten 90), Burridge, B Watkins, Enzam, Phipps (Roche 62), Noor.
Unused subs: Absolum, J Watkins.