OXFORD United relieved some of the pressure which had been building over Christmas by starting 2018 with a home win over Milton Keynes Dons.

Only their third win in 13 Sky Bet League One games, it was just what Pep Clotet and his side needed, especially on their first outing at the Kassam Stadium since the 7-0 thrashing by Wigan Athletic.

Wes Thomas’s early opener was cancelled out by Alex Gilbey’s header – as United conceded from a corner for the fourth game running.

But crucially the home side took a lead into half-time, as Gino van Kessel tapped in after excellent work by Thomas and Ryan Ledson.

Jon Obika, who had hit the crossbar at 1-1, gave United a two-goal lead.

It was a cushion which came in very useful when Ricardinho was sent off eight minutes from time, United’s first red card for 79 games.

But a tiring Dons never looked like staging a late comeback, as United began the year with three precious points.

Despite it being only 48 hours since the 3-2 defeat to Bradford City, Pep Clotet made just one change to his starting line-up.

It was enforced by Joe Rothwell’s hamstring injury, with Jack Payne coming in wide on the left.

Perhaps with a few spectators nursing New Year’s Eve hangovers, combined with the lack of form, the atmosphere was flat early on.

There was nothing in the opening exchanges to excite, but almost out of the blue United opened the scoring with their first attempt on goal.

Jon Obika was found wide on the right and he threaded a pass into Van Kessel, who just kept the ball in play as he cut it back to give Thomas a simple finish in the six-yard box.

Given United’s recent struggles, the first goal was just what the doctor ordered.

But the lead lasted just nine minutes, as the Dons levelled.

The U’s had conceded goals from corners in the previous three games and the set piece woe was extended.

Simon Eastwood made a good save to turn Alex Gilbey’s low shot round the post, but the midfielder got on the end of George Williams’s flick-on to head into the net at the far post.

It was a blow, but United should have gone in front again on the half-hour mark.

Quick thinking by Canice Carroll saw the full back’s throw-in find Van Kessel, whose low cross found Obika. The striker had time to control the ball near the penalty spot, but his powerful shot rattled the crossbar.

Neither side’s defence looked particularly solid and Kieran Agard was the next to waste a good chance, heading wide from Robbie Muirhead’s 35th-minute cross.

Dons goalkeeper made routine saves to deny Thomas and Obika, but in stoppage-time United led again.

An error from Ethan Ebanks-Landell gifted the hosts possession 25 yards out and only a terrific save from Nicholls kept out Payne’s low shot.

But on the greasy surface the ball squirmed out of the goalkeeper’s grasp as three United players bore down on him. All played a part, as Thomas worked the ball free and Ryan Ledson squared for Van Kessel to bundle in his fifth goal of the season.

It should have been 3-1 early in the second half, but after a terrific run and pass from Ruffels laid on a golden chance for Thomas, but from ten yards he blasted straight at Nicholls.

Although John Mousinho had to clear a shot from Gilbey off the line, United looked more threatening.

And just before the hour they got the breathing space of a third goal, when Obika picked out the far corner from another terrific Ruffels pass.

With Dons tiring after playing for nearly an hour with nine men on Saturday, United looked set to enjoy themselves.

But they needed a slice of fortune midway through the half, when a Dons free-kick ricocheted off Mousinho and Carroll, before hitting the crossbar.

United were making smooth progress, but eight minutes from time Ricardinho was dismissed.

The full back had just seen his corner cleared off the line, but he then lunged in two-footed on Conor McGrandles and can have no complaints.

With stoppage-time there was still 13 minutes left, but a reorganised United, who handed Malachi Napa a league debut, held firm.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Eastwood, Carroll, Martin, Mousinho, Ricardinho, Van Kessel (Napa 88), Ledson, Ruffels, Payne, Obika (Tiendalli 84), Thomas (Mehmeti 63).

Unused subs: Shearer, Williamson, Henry, Mowatt.

Booked: Ledson.

Sent off: Ricardinho.

MK Dons (4-1-4-1): Nicholls, Williams, Ebanks-Landell, Cisse, Golbourne, Upson (Thomas-Asante 86), Pawlett, Gilbey, McGrandles, Muirhead (Aneke 55), Agard (Nombe 79).

Unused subs: Sietsma, Ariyibi, Wootton, Seager.

Booked: Williams, Muirhead.

Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).

Attendance: 7,628 (650 visitors).