WES Thomas and Josh Ruffels were on target as the Pep Clotet era at Oxford United began with a piece of history.

The U’s had not won at Boundary Park in their previous 15 visits, but some clinical finishing and robust defending was enough to see off Oldham Athletic.

Debutant Jack Payne was instrumental, creating both goals to crown a superb individual debut.

First he freed Thomas to race clear and open the scoring towards the end of a half where the visitors had needed to dig in during a lengthy spell while Mike Williamson was treated off the pitch.

Oldham turned up the heat after the break without creating anything clear-cut against a back four who looked well organised.

And Ruffels’s tidy finish, again from a Payne pass, gave the visitors the luxury of a two-goal cushion which was not seriously threatened in the closing stages.

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Clotet’s first teamsheet handed competitive debuts to Mike Williamson, James Henry and Payne, while Rob Hall was kept in reserve on the bench.

United laboured to defeat on a dreadful pitch at Boundary Park in March, so will have been heartened to see a vastly improved playing surface.

They moved the ball well early on to forge a shooting chance for Josh Ruffels, whose shot was deflected wide.

In a typically fast and furious opening Oldham’s direct approach was clear.

United had to deal with more long balls in the opening 15 minutes than in the whole of pre-season, but Curtis Nelson and Williamson stood up to the barrage.

The only nervous moment defensively in the opening 25 minutes came via a moment of carelessness from Marvin Johnson, who will have been relieved to see Ryan McLaughlin fail to collect the resulting cross.

Johnson was more effective at the other end of the pitch, where he flashed one dangerous ball across the six-yard box which just needed a meaningful touch.

Wes Thomas also warmed Ben Wilson’s gloves with a near-post effort, but the visitors’ progress was halted by an injury to Williamson.

The centre back sustained a cut lip in an aerial challenge with Craig Davies and had to leave the pitch for running repairs.

A reshuffled United had to negotiate more than six minutes with ten men before the veteran could return.

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Thanks to a terrific punch by goalkeeper Simon Eastwood under his crossbar, they emerged from the spell unscathed, but conceded the clearest chance of the half shortly after Williamson’s return.

Aaron Holloway’s hopeful ball over the top saw Davies spring the offside trap and break into the box. To United’s relief, their former striker did not catch the bouncing ball cleanly, although Eastwood only gathered at the second attempt.

The home side were beginning to get on top, but six minutes before the break United hit them on the break.

Joe Rothwell’s intelligent pass found Payne, who sized up the situation before classily curling a pass with the outside of his left boot which took three defenders out of the game.

It was a perfect pass to send Thomas clear and although he allowed the defenders to make up ground, the striker calmly rolled his finish past Ben Wilson and into the net.

Payne, who had impressed already, then took centre stage.

The on-loan midfielder slid a pass into Thomas, who came within inches of a second goal in two minutes with a sharp turn and shot.

With the next break Payne caused problems again and was fouled on the edge of the box, from where Henry’s free-kick rebounded for Ryan Ledson to test the goalkeeper.

United started the second half in a hurry.

The influential Payne played in Rothwell to have a shot blocked, before United’s No 10 came close to a goal for himself.

A terrific move ended with him turning and shooting ten yards out, only for Ben Wilson to make a brilliant one-handed save diving low to his left.

At the other end United had to get through plenty of defensive work.

Oldham cranked up the pressure with a series of corners, but Eastwood was not stretched by a shot on target.

They did appear to be living dangerously when a tackle on Nelson was not penalised and the ball ricocheted for substitute Tope Obadeyi, who lashed a shot wide.

But 19 minutes from time United got the second goal they craved.

Again Payne was heavily involved, squaring for Ruffels to exploit a gap in the Oldham defence and poke a shot into the net in front of an ecstatic away end.

Tempers frayed in the closing stages, with Williamson puzzlingly booked after a fracas involving most of the 22 players.

Substitute Jon Obika had a chance to ice the cake five minutes from time when he was too strong for Anthony Gerrard, but Ben Wilson denied the striker at the near post.

Oldham Ath (4-4-2): Ben Wilson, Brian Wilson, Clarke, Gerrard, Hunt, McLaughlin, Fane, Green (Obadeyi 59), Banks (Flynn 75), Davies (Duffus 75), Holloway.

Unused subs: Dummigan, Flynn, Edmundson, Stott, Fawns.

Booked: McLaughlin.

Oxford Utd (4-4-1-1): Eastwood, Ribeiro, Nelson, Williamson, Johnson, Henry, Ledson, Ruffels, Rothwell (Carroll 71), Payne, Thomas (Obika 65).

Unused subs: Shearer, Martin, Xemi, Napa, Hall.

Booked: Rothwell, Williamson.

Referee: David Webb (County Durham).

Attendance: 4,874 (1,067 visitors).