Kyle Vassell came off the bench to score within five minutes of his debut and give Oxford United a priceless victory at the Kassam Stadium.

The result significantly eased the home side's relegation fears and heaped pressure on fellow strugglers Carlisle United, who played the final 20 minutes with ten men.

Michael Appleton's men had to do it the hard way, though, after conceding a wind-assisted free-kick from Paul Corry which embarrassed the U's defence.

But Patrick Hoban ended the long wait to open his goalscoring account with a terrific header to level the scores before half-time.

The hosts always looked the more likely to go on and win the game in the second half, especially once Troy Archibald-Henville was sent off for two quick bookings.

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Vassell was the hero, producing a superb first-time finish from the edge of the box to calm United's nerves.

Appleton made one change to the side which started the 2-0 defeat to Shrewsbury Town a week earlier.

With Alex MacDonald serving a suspension, Danny Rose made his first start since January.

New signing Vassell was among the substitutes, alongside Callum O'Dowda, who made his Republic of Ireland Under 21 debut on Thursday.

Appleton called for a fast start - and he got it.

Less than three minutes were on the clock when a cross from Danny Hylton found its way to Hoban, whose left-footed shot from close range struck Carlisle goalkeeper Dan Hanford's foot and trickled wide.

Hylton also had a shot deflected off target and Johnny Mullins forced Hanford into another save, all in the opening six minutes.

It was an encouraging start, but it all came to a shuddering halt in the ninth minute, when United conceded an awful goal.

Standing over a free-kick 45 yards out, Corry looked to pick out a teammate, but the strong wind caught the ball.

It sailed over its intended target and instead, with no-one in yellow able to deal with it, the ball bounced on the way into the net via the crossbar.

The anxiety among the home fans went up a notch five minutes later, when Kemar Roofe crossed for Rose, who saw his shot hit a defender on the way to striking the crossbar.

The ball bounced on the line and away to safety, prompting thoughts this was not going to be United's day.

After a frantic opening 20 minutes where Carlisle looked vulnerable, the game began to settle down.

With a lead to protect, the visitors were content to soak up pressure and chose their moments to attack.

United goalkeeper Ryan Clarke was untested, although Steven Rigg should have done better on the half hour mark, when he scuffed a shot wide.

It was beginning to look a tough task for the hosts, but seven minutes before the break they drew level with a goal of real quality.

Roofe did well on the left to get a yard of space and swing in a cross for Hoban to plant a powerful header past Hanford at the near post.

It was the Irishman's first goal on his 13th start for United and the striker showed his relief with a celebration full of emotion.

The goal did United the power of good and they began to pass the ball with more confidence.

Hanford had to be alert at the start of the second half to keep out shots from George Baldock and then Hylton.

The home fans turned up the volume as the pressure grew and midway through the half it began to take its toll on the visitors.

Archibald-Henville collected two bookings in the space of two minutes, first for a hand ball and then for a lunge on Roofe.

It gave United just over 20 minutes to play with an extra man.

Appleton turned to the bench and brought on Vassell, who took just five minutes to make an impact.

Latching on to a weak defensive header, the loanee from Peterborough lashed a first-time shot from the edge of the box which flew into the bottom corner.

It was almost 3-1 within minutes, but Mullins saw a header from Rose's corner hit the woodwork and bounce clear.

Carlisle took plenty of risks in five minutes of additional time, with Hanford saving brilliantly to keep out Roofe.

In the end a two-goal cushion was not needed and United saw out the remaining time without too much trouble.

Oxford Utd: Clarke, Baldock, Mullins, Wright, Skarz, Roofe, Collins, Ruffels, Rose (O'Dowda 86), Hylton (Roberts 90), Hoban (Vassell 75). Unused subs: Ashdown, Dunkley, Long, Whing.

Carlisle Utd: Hanford, Young, Archibald-Henville, Grainger, Brough, Dempsey (Atkinson 76), Kennedy, Corry, Monakana, Rigg, Wyke (Buddle 70). Unused subs: Gillespie, Paynter, Kearns, Beck, Asamoah.

Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey).

Attendance: 5,515 (476 visitors).