OXFORD United ended a testing week with the home victory they desperately needed to ease their relegation concerns.

It was a thoroughly deserved result against Southend United which looked on the cards from the moment James Henry fired them into a sixth-minute lead.

The Shrimpers have proved a bogey side against the U’s in recent seasons, so a second goal was needed to stop nerves creeping in.

It arrived in first-half stoppage-time thanks to a lung-busting run from Ricardinho, whose cross was turned in by Southend defender John White.

The own goal gave the hosts the comfort of a two-goal cushion, which they almost needed when Simon Cox had a great chance just before the hour, only for Simon Eastwood to make an excellent save.

From then on the U’s looked just as likely to add to their lead and even had the boost of seeing skipper Curtis Nelson make his long-awaited return from injury.

It was a terrific response to the late midweek heartbreak against Fleetwood Town and took Karl Robinson’s side to 50 points.

They are not yet safe, but with other struggling sides picking up useful results the U’s would have been deep in trouble without only their third win in 15 games.

Henry was the surprise name on the United teamsheet, returning ahead of schedule from a back injury as one of two changes to the starting XI from midweek.

Jon Obika also started, as Agon Mehmeti and the injured Joe Rothwell dropped out.

Henry showed no ill-effects of the injury, as he took centre stage early on.

After wasting a host of chances against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday, the emphasis was on United’s cutting edge.

They appealed for a goal in the fifth minute, when a slip from Ben Coker saw Henry break down the right. The midfielder picked out Ryan Ledson’s run to the back post, but referee Darren Handley adjudged the midfielder’s close-range header had not crossed the line as Mark Oxley palmed it away.

There was no time for United to complain – as seconds later the Southend goalkeeper was beaten when Henry drove into the box and fired low into the far corner of the net.

It was exactly what the hosts needed and they played with an intensity early on, which the Shrimpers struggled to contain.

Todd Kane smashed a shot wide after Wes Thomas had raced on to a long ball from Ledson and picked out the full back’s run.

Dru Yearwood flashed a shot just past Simon Eastwood’s far post at the other end, but the visitors’ quickly had to readjust.

They lost skipper Coker and the experienced Michael Turner – half their back four – in the space of three minutes.

Rob Dickie was then involved at both ends in quick succession just after the half-hour mark.

After the U’s centre back had a header well saved at a corner, he then lost Anthony Wordsworth, who forced Eastwood into a save.

Dickie then turned provider, raking a long ball forward from his own half which was nodded down by Obika for Henry, who volleyed over what would have been a terrific goal.

United had plenty of defending to do late in the half, but Southend’s injury troubles then came back to haunt them.

The stoppages for the two injuries led to four minutes being added on, during which the hosts doubled their lead.

An over-hit cross from McLaughlin gave Ricardinho room to gallop forward, roared on from the touchline by boss Karl Robinson.

The Brazilian played forward to Obika and kept running, collecting the return pass and his cross was deflected by White through Oxley’s legs into the net.

Southend almost struck back within seconds, but Dru Yearwood's shot smacked against Eastwood's left-hand post.

United’s lead was timely – at half-time six of the bottom eight in League One were in front.

Thomas headed over from a corner as the hosts looked to stretch their lead, but it took a superb save from Eastwood to keep out Simon Cox from Jason Demetriou’s cutback on 59 minutes.

United looked dangerous, though, and almost made it 3-0 midway through the half.

Dickie was denied again from a corner, but this time the rebound fell to his centre half partner John Mousinho, who fired against the post.

United were doing a good job of slowing the game down and as the minutes ticked by they were able to bring on Nelson for his first appearance since November.

He received a standing ovation as he came on, accepting the captain’s armband from Mousinho, who moved into midfield.

Eastwood denied Wordsworth and Shayon Harrison in stoppage-time, but the home side held firm to record a morale-boosting result.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Eastwood, Kane, Dickie, Mousinho, Ricardinho, Brannagan, Mowatt (Nelson 79), Ledson, Henry (Mehmeti 90), Obika, Thomas (Van Kessel 87).

Unused subs: Shearer, Martin, Carroll, Napa.

Booked: Dickie, Ledson, Mowatt.

Southend Utd (4-2-3-1): Oxley, Demetriou, Turner (Ferdinand 28), White, Coker (Bwomono 25), McLaughlin, Yearwood, Wordsworth, Timlin, Kightly (Harrison 65), Cox.

Unused subs: Bishop, Wright, Ladapo, Robinson.

Booked: None.

Referee: Darren Handley (Lancashire).

Attendance: 7,332 (776 visitors).