OXFORD United’s mediocre display against Leyton Orient had nothing to do with nerves in the race for promotion, according to head coach Michael Appleton.

The 1-0 defeat was a bad day at the office for the U’s, whose advantage over fourth place in Sky Bet League Two was slashed to just three points.

With games beginning to run out each contest has a little more riding on it than the previous one and Orient’s position in the play-off fight added to the fixture’s importance.

Appleton bemoaned a lack of quality from his key players, but felt tension over United’s position was not a viable excuse.

He said: “There’s nerves in every game you play. I think that’s a cop-out if we say that.”

He added: “I thought we lacked a bit of quality in the final third.

“People who you normally expect to be very good in those areas were just off it.”

Orient sought to slow the game down as much as they could in a bid to frustrate their hosts.

It is not the first time this season a contest has suffered from such an approach, but referee David Coote did not punish the time-wasting.

Appleton said: “One thing that would help is if they actually booked the goalkeeper, whether it’s in the fifth minute or the 85th, I’d guarantee he wouldn’t do it again.”

United’s team sheet saw a return in goal for Benji Buchel, despite being a doubt earlier in the week with a side strain.

The move would appear to show the Liechtenstein international was now seen as the No 1, in preference to Sam Slocombe.

“I thought he deserved the opportunity to come back in because of his previous performances,” Appleton said.

“I just felt with the type of games we’ve got coming up, they are against sides who like to get the ball forward early and will put balls into the box.

“I suppose Benji being slightly more aggressive gives him the nod on that one at the minute.”