JAMES Henry’s strike claimed a precious victory which eased the pressure on Oxford United.

The midfielder capped a superb individual performance by blasting in a shot from Ryan Ledson’s pass just after the hour mark.

It built on Rob Dickie’s early opener from close range, as United produced their best display for weeks.

But their two-goal lead did not last long, with Jack Marriott quickly poaching from close range.

The Posh dangerman was then off target with two good chances, but United held on and played out the final stages against ten men after Jack Baldwin picked up two bookings.

It sealed a hugely significant result for the U’s, who increased their cushion over the relegation zone to six points.

In what is expected to be his final game in caretaker charge, Derek Fazackerley was bold.

Wes Thomas was brought in to play up alongside Jon Obika, while Henry was deployed behind the front two.

Alex Mowatt also started as Josh Ruffels, Ricardinho and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts dropped to the bench.

The form guide favoured Peterborough, but United were on the front foot early on and got the flying start they craved.

Swirling wind made life difficult for defenders and Henry’s sixth-minute corner was placed right under Jonathan Bond’s crossbar. No-one in blue could get a meaningful touch and when the ball dropped into the six-yard box, Dickie was there to prod in his first goal for the club.

A minute later, it almost got even better.

Obika nodded down a pass forward into the path of Henry, whose 25-yard effort with the bouncing ball beat Bond but hit his right-hand post and bounced clear.

Peterborough looked rattled in the snow, while the U’s looked bright.

Todd Kane was given the freedom of the right flank every time the hosts got on the ball early on, prompting the Posh to switch from 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-3.

It tightened the game up, but it took half an hour for the visitors to force Simon Eastwood into a save, when he turned Marcus Maddison’s shot round the post.

Ledson made a timely intervention from the resulting corner as United scrapped hard to protect their lead.

It was noticeable how hard they were working, with Ledson and Brannagan in particular snapping into tackles to put Peterborough under pressure.

The front two played their part in defending from the front and they almost combined to double the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Mowatt slipped a pass into Thomas, whose cutback for Obika was superbly blocked by Andrew Hughes.

It was Obika’s last action, as he made way for Gino van Kessel at the break.

Peterborough, who lost Jermaine Anderson before the break, brought on Chris Forrester for the start of the second half.

He only lasted nine minutes as he stayed down following a challenge with Brannagan and could not continue – forcing Steve Evans to make his final change with 35 minutes still to play.

United doubled their lead just after the hour mark.

Ledson latched on to a loose ball and weighted his pass perfectly for Henry, whose powerful shot flew in past Bond, who should have done better.

But the two-goal advantage lasted just two minutes.

United were caught out by a quickly-taken corner and Maddison’s cross reached the middle of the six-yard box, where Marriott tapped in for his 29th goal of the season.

The hosts then lost top-scorer Thomas to injury.

His replacement was Malachi Napa, who was involved in a three-on-one attack shortly after coming on, but Van Kessel’s pass to the winger was poor.

Marriott almost punished the mistake within two minutes as he charged forward into space, but the division’s top-scorer sank to his knees in frustration after the low shot from the edge of the box fizzed inches wide.

He volleyed another chance off-target, over this time, from Maddison’s exquisite pass.

United were hanging on, but Peterborough’s push for an equaliser was undone by a couple of cheap offside decisions.

The addition of seven minutes after the 90 did not help the blood pressure, but Baldwin’s second booking, for a foul on Van Kessel took the sting out of the visitors’ push.

Substitute Ricardinho shot wide with a great chance in the dying seconds, but seconds later came the final whistle, confirming United's first home win since January 6 to increase the gap to the bottom four.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Eastwood, Kane, Dickie, Mousinho, Smith-Brown, Henry, Ledson, Brannagan, Mowatt (Ricardinho 88), Thomas (Napa 68), Obika (Van Kessel HT).

Unused subs: Shearer, Martin, Ruffels, Buckley-Ricketts.

Booked: Ledson.

Peterborough Utd (4-4-1-1): Bond, Shephard, Baldwin, Taylor, Hughes, Maddison, Da Silva Lopes, Doughty, Ward (Forrester HT, Lloyd 54), Anderson (Bogle 38), Marriott.

Unused subs: O’Malley, Tafazolli, Morias, Cooper.

Booked: Baldwin, Maddison.

Sent off: Baldwin.

Referee: Robert Lewis (Shropshire).

Attendance: 6,804 (708 visitors).