A MISSED penalty and three second half goals meant Swindon Town Under 18s missed out on winning the Merit League title, after they lost 3-0 to Oxford United at Abingdon this morning.

David Farrell’s youngsters appeared the better team in the game’s opening half, but the hosts asserted their dominance on the game after skipper Luke Haines missed a spot kick shortly after the break.

United went on to grab two quick goals before three players – including Town’s Ralph Graham and Haines – were sent off after pushes were thrown on the edge of the 18-yard box.

Oxford added their third goal from the resulting free-kick, putting the game well beyond Town’s reach.

The bitter end to the campaign will undoubtedly take the shine off of what has been an exceptionally encouraging season for the academy.

After only securing their Merit League One spot by a point following a turbulent Youth Alliance South West campaign, Farrell’s youngsters excelled in the second part of season – ensuring four players ended the year with full-time professional contracts at SN1.

Reflecting on the game, Town boss Farrell said: “It wasn’t our day today, in more ways than one.

“I want to view this whole season as a positive, I took the group from the start of the season and initially I thought it was going to be a hard job with the group we had.

“But the boys have displayed a tremendous attitude for the entire season. They’ve had the right attitude every single day in training – they want to learn and develop.

“The fact that they’ve had the opportunity to fight to win the league is a great achievement for the team.

“And I said that to them after the full time whistle. I want them to take this result on the chin and learn from it, regardless if they’re progressing forward with us or not.”

Southend United went on to claim the Merit League title after they defeated Portsmouth 4-1 away from home.

Should Wimbledon fail to earn a point from their trip to Bournemouth tomorrow, Town’s academy will finish runners up in the Merit League.

And that is something Farrell admits is a great achievement for the club.

He added: “I wouldn’t say one game turned our season, it was about chipping away and little improvements.

“It’ a development pathway, you don’t get a jump of development overnight – you chip away every day by working on players’ strengths and weaknesses.

“And that’s what we did all season. We worked hard all season, and got our reward by being able to fight for the title.”