GOALS from Johnny Mullins and Callum O'Dowda gave a gritty Oxford United their first victory of 2015.

The key moments came in the space of nine second-half minutes, but the three points also owed a lot to their defensive discipline and game management.

It was precisely the physical battle United had predicted and a poor playing surface only added to the difficulties.

But after digging in for an hour, United landed a double blow to claim a much-needed three points.

Head coach Michael Appleton made four changes to the side which began the 2-2 draw with Exeter City a week earlier.

Both new signings made their debuts, with Richard Brindley at right back and Joe Skarz coming in at left back for Sam Long and Jon Meades.

It was a case of horses for courses in midfield, where the more robust Andy Whing and Michael Collins replaced Josh Ashby and Josh Ruffels.

It was apparent even from the warm-ups that the playing surface would prevent attractive football.

Snow had fallen, but not settled, earlier in the day, leaving conditions very heavy and prone to cutting up.

United took note and from the outset played far more direct than normal.

They almost went ahead on five minutes, when Danny Hylton blasted into the net, but referee Tim Robinson had already blown for a foul by Patrick Hoban.

It was a rare sight of goal for either side in an attritional first half.

Stevenage constantly looked for right winger Roarie Deacon, but Skarz was equal to the threat in an impressively no-nonsense debut in a United shirt.

Ahead of him on the left flank, O'Dowda provided the majority of United's sporadic threat.

One neat move sent him clear on 20 minutes and when the winger's cross was charged down, it fell to Hoban, whose shot from just outside the box found the side netting.

At the other end, United stood up well to the challenge.

Ryan Clarke was worried only once before the break, getting down to his right to turn Dean Parrett's free-kick around the post for a corner.

The goalkeeper made a spectacular save five minutes after the break, diving to parry Ben Kennedy's volley from 20 yards.

It was part of a bright start to the half for Stevenage, who brought on Kennedy and Joe N'Guessan at the break.

United were under as much pressure as they had been at any other time in the game, but on the stroke of the hour the visitors opened the scoring.

O'Dowda again caused problems on the left and was fouled near the corner flag.

Collins curled in the free-kick and although it was slightly behind Mullins, the defender readjusted superbly to steer a header into the top corner.

And within nine minutes, it got even better for United.

From the right Collins swung in an inviting cross which was met powerfully by Hoban.

The Irishman must have thought he had opened his goalscoring account for the club, only to see Chris Day make a stunning one-handed save.

Time seemed to stand still, with O'Dowda the only one alive to the opportunity and the winger coolly netted the rebound.

The second goal gave United a welcome cushion and try as they might, Stevenage could not force a clear chance to get back into the game.

Instead, Appleton's men expertly ran down the clock.

It gave them a first win at Stevenage, but more importantly they showed a gutsy streak which they will hope to replicate for the rest of the campaign.

Stevenage: Day, Henry, Wells, Charles, Okimo, Deacon (Kennedy ht), Parrett (McAllister 76), Walton, Lee, Beardsley, Zola (N'Guessan ht).

Unused subs: Beasant, Dembele, Bond, Ashton.

Oxford Utd: Clarke, Brindley, Mullins, Wright, Skarz, Whing, Collins, Rose, Hylton (Roberts 85), Hoban, O'Dowda (Burns 90).

Unused subs: Crocombe, Long, Dunkley, Ashby, Ruffels.

Attendance: 3,146.

Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).