OXFORD United’s lack of width in midfield was a deliberate ploy to contain Scunthorpe United, according to Michael Appleton.

The head coach selected Liam Sercombe and Joe Rothwell, who are far happier in central roles, as the hosts’ wide men.

While their reluctance to get near the touchline did United few favours in possession in the first half, it did prevent Scunthorpe’s diamond formation from creating chances.

It meant although Paddy Madden’s terrific finish put the visitors in front, Appleton was far more content with a scrappy opening 45 minutes than those watching from the stands.

He said: “In the first half the players gave me everything I asked of them.

“I knew we would have to compete with them in the middle of the park because they would have that many bodies in there.

“That’s why Liam Sercombe and Joe Rothwell were important for us.”

He added: “The message I gave to the players at half-time was don’t get disappointed or put off by a groan in the crowd, we’re trying to do the right thing, that’s what will win us the game.

“I thought we did really well in the second half.”

Appleton’s one frustration at the break was they had not made better use of the full backs, who were the only players able to find space.

It was an instruction which led to Joe Skarz laying on the equaliser for John Lundstram to score for the first time in more than a year early in the second half.

The U’s boss said: “We all take the mickey out of him every day in training – he’s hopeless at finishing.

“It was good he had the encouragement to get in the box because I think he can do it a lot more.”

The result was vital following on from the midweek loss at Oldham Athletic and kept the U’s, who had won at Peterborough United a week earlier, alive in the race for the play-offs.

Appleton said: “I’m delighted with this and I suppose I’ve got to be happy with six points out of nine.

“It’s another big week coming up for us.”