A FAST start and more good defending ensured Oxford United could celebrate their 125th birthday with three precious points against Shrewsbury Town.

Headers from Josh Ruffels and Gavin Whyte inside the opening quarter of an hour gave United a lead which they never seriously looked like losing.

Shrewsbury had plenty of the game in the 70 minutes between the second and third goals, but had little to show for it against a U’s defence claiming their fourth clean sheet in five games.

Marcus Browne added a third late on, with a little help from referee Martin Coy, to ice United’s cake in front of their biggest league crowd of the campaign.

Despite extending their unbeaten run to five games, the side remain in Sky Bet League One’s relegation zone, but keep playing like this and they should not be there for much longer.

Whyte, scorer as a substitute in midweek, replaced Marcus Browne in the only change to the starting line-up from the 1-1 draw at Charlton Athletic.

Kick-off was preceded by a parade of legends to mark United’s 125th anniversary and the former players formed a guard of honour for the teams. It was a nice touch, as was the Oxford Ultras banner unveiled in the East Stand.

United produced a start befitting the occasion, racing into a 2-0 lead.

Just as in their previous home game, Karl Robinson’s side struck with their first attempt on goal.

There were only three minutes on the clock when Tony McMahon’s corner picked out a run by Ruffels, who expertly glanced his header into the far corner.

The hosts were up and running against a Shrewsbury side who looked vulnerable against United’s movement.

In the 14th minute the lead was doubled with a move which was started and finished by Whyte.

The in-form Northern Irishman picked the ball up on halfway and breezed past Omar Beckles out wide. He checked back once he reached the area and United recycled the ball to McMahon, who again delivered an excellent ball which Whyte powered in with his head.

It was a dream start and for a moment it looked like the home side would run riot.

Another move saw Whyte and Henry combine well, but the overworked Shrews defence scrambled a clearance.

Belatedly the visitors steadied the ship and it became an even contest in the 20 minutes before half-time.

But while they saw plenty of the ball in United’s half, the toughest save goalkeeper Simon Eastwood had to make was when a Greg Docherty free-kick hit John Mousinho and diverted goalwards.

A clear chance did arrive nine minutes after the break. Ryan Haynes was found on the overlap and his low cross found Docherty on the penalty spot. His shot was low, but superbly blocked by Rob Dickie.

United’s response was to come within inches of a third goal. Mackie could not have caught his shot from the edge of the box any sweeter, but it hit the outside of Coleman’s right-hand post.

United, though, could not claim to have a grip on the game and midway through the half needed an excellent parry from Eastwood to keep out Luke Waterfall’s header at a corner.

It was as close as Shrewsbury came, with the U’s again showing the defensive grit which has been a feature of their unbeaten run.

Steadily they ground their way through the second half, threatening at times on the break with Holmes and Whyte.

A third goal did arrive late on, with the Coy playing a key role. A Shrewsbury pass hit the official and fell for Cameron Brannagan, who slipped in Browne to coolly finish.

While it was not enough to lift them out of the bottom four, only goal difference is keeping them the wrong side of the line now.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, McMahon, Nelson, Dickie, Ruffels, Mousinho, Brannagan, Henry (Browne 73), Whyte, Mackie (Smith 89), Holmes (Hanson 84).

Unused subs: Shearer, Garbutt, Long, Carruthers.

Booked: None.

Shrewsbury Tn (3-5-2): Coleman, Bolton, Waterfall, Beckles, Emmanuel, Docherty (Laurent 64), Grant, Norburn, Haynes (Eisa 87), Angol (Holloway 53), Okenabirhie.

Unused subs: Arnold, Sadler, Gillead, Barnett.

Booked: Angol.

Referee: Martin Coy (Co Durham).

Attendance: 8,697 (594 visitors).