Charlton’s top two hopes were dealt a massive blow as they fell to defeat against former manager Karl Robinson’s Oxford.
Lyle Taylor had broken the deadlock after just five minutes for the Addicks, but goals from Curtis Nelson and Luke Garbitt had turned the game on it’s head midway through the first-period.
Both sides ended with ten men after red cards to home stopper Simon Eastwood and Addicks defender Chris Solly after the interval, but there were no further goals as the visitors failed to make ground on Barnsley in second place.
The South Londoners were quick out the trap and had already seen Taylor sting the palms of home stopper Simon Eastwood from close range before they took a fifth-minute lead.
Joe Aribo had surged into the U’s area before being tripped by Nelson. Taylor did the honours from the penalty spot to grab his 22ndgoal of the season and the visitors seemed to be in command before they were rocked by two goals in five minutes.
Captain Jason Pearce adjusted well to head a goal-bound volley over the bar but Curtis peeled away at the far-post to volley the resulting corner home and atone for his part in the penalty that led to the opening goal.
The turnaround was completed in the 23rdminute. Garbutt fizzed a superb left-footed free-kick beyond Dillon Phillips from 25 yards to edge Robinson’s side into the lead.
The South Londoners seemed to have lost some of their early momentum but could have been level once more as Taylor’s effort fell into the path of Jonny Williams – the midfielder only able to scoop over the bar from close in.
Bowyer brought Josh Parker in at the break, replacing Ben Reeves as he reverted to his favoured 4-4-2 diamond formation and the former Gillingham man almost had an instant impact as he headed Josh Cullen’s corner over the bar.
But the game did swing once again moments later as Oxford were reduced to ten men. Taylor looked to be latching onto a long ball over the top before Eastwood inexplicably handled outside of the area. Referee Darren Drysdale had no option other than to show a straight red-card.
Substitute keeper Jack Stevens came into the fray and he was just a spectator as Parker’s resulting free-kick trickled wide after nicking off the Oxford wall.
The Addicks started to dominate possession once more without creating a great deal – and then they lost their man-advantage fifteen minutes from time.
Solly may well have felt his shot was charged down by an Oxford hand, but the referee said no and then gave his red card its airing of the afternoon as the Addicks full-back dived into a challenge on Jamie Mackie.
Charlton still had their chances to salvage something from the game. Patrick Bauer seemed to have bundled a leveller over the line in the final ten minutes only to be denied by a superb recovery save by Stevens, with Taylor also denied by the stopper late on as the Addicks slipped to a first defeat in 12 games.