ALEX MacDonald scored twice to ease the pressure on Oxford United as they claimed a confidence-boosting win against Mansfield Town.

The January signing's tap-in put a nervy United ahead before the break and he came up with a quality finish to make it 2-0 early in the second half.

A hard-working Patrick Hoban won a penalty, converted by Danny Hylton, to secure the points.

It was United's biggest margin of victory this season - and given the context it was arguably their most important, as the gap to the bottom two stretched to six points.

An injury ruled out Joe Skarz, forcing one of three changes to the United XI which had lost 2-0 at Burton Albion.

Sam Long came in as a makeshift left back, while Josh Ruffels and MacDonald replaced Andy Whing and Josh Ashby.

United had worked hard to build the game up, but all the preparation work almost fell flat as the side made a nervous start.

Long, who had shot a whisker wide from an early corner, mis-controlled to gift Jeffrey Monakana a run on goal.

Fortunately the debutant could only fire wide under pressure from the covering Jake Wright.

The uneven playing surface played a role in Long's mistake, and a bobble nearly caught out Ryan Clarke seconds later.

Striker Vadaine Oliver's shot looked relatively harmless, but the goalkeeper had to readjust at the last moment after the ball hit a bobble.

United looked disjointed, but their better moments came down the right flank.

George Baldock, making his home debut, dug out an excellent cross on 18 minutes which Hoban headed over.

There was very little in a scrappy game, but just after the half hour mark United opened the scoring.

Baldock was again the provider, delivering a cross which Mansfield goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley missed under pressure from Hoban.

The ball fell kindly to an unmarked MacDonald, who could not miss from close range.

It was just the lift United wanted and all ten outfield players flocked to the goalscorer to congratulate him.

The goal had little impact on the game, which remained scrappy up to half-time.

Aside from Monakana, Mansfield carried little threat, although Simon Heslop came close with a 42nd-minute shot which struck a teammate to leave Clarke wrong-footed. Fortunately for the hosts, it dropped a yard wide.

A one-goal cushion always looked like it would be vulnerable, so it was encouraging to see United start the second half strongly.

Hoban headed wide after a cross from MacDonald, who then tested Pidgeley with a shot from range.

The deadline day signing added his second goal of the afternoon nine minutes into the half, ending an almighty scramble in the Mansfield box.

United appealed for a penalty after Hylton tumbled, but the ball fell to O'Dowda. The winger danced through and his shot was well saved.

The ball fell to Michael Collins, who squared for MacDonald to brilliantly thread a shot into the far corner.

A second goal eased the pressure and United were in no mood to sit on their lead.

Just after the hour mark a long throw from MacDonald found Hoban, who was too quick for Ryan Tafazolli's lunge in the box.

MacDonald, on a hat-trick, wanted the penalty, but Hylton waved him away and calmly tucked home from 12 yards.

The top scorer's afternoon might have take a turn for the worse ten minutes later.

Already on a booking, he appeared to get away with a deliberate handball and was immediately substituted.

James Roberts almost made it 4-0 seconds after coming on when he charged down a Pidgeley clearance, sending the ball ricocheting just wide.

The striker also volleyed over from an O'Dowda cross, before United calmly ran down the clock.

Mansfield, whose only shot on target came in the fifth minute, looked a beaten side and were unable to build any late pressure.

Oxford Utd: Clarke, Baldock, Mullins, Wright, Long, MacDonald (Roofe 71), Collins (Whing 88), Ruffels, O'Dowda, Hylton (Roberts 76), Hoban.

Unused subs: Ashdown, Dunkley, Rose, Rasulo.

Mansfield Tn: Pidgeley, Sutton, Riley, Tafazolli, Elder, Ravenhill, Monakana, Heslop, Thomas (Bingham ht), Brown (Lambe 75), Oliver (Kee 73).

Unused subs: Studer, Rhead, McGuire, Beevers.

Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).

Attendance: 6,954 (322 visitors).