JAMES Henry’s second-half penalty earned Oxford United a well-deserved home victory over Gillingham and helped Karl Robinson’s side climb out of the relegation zone.

The midfielder kept his cool to convert from the spot to extend the U’s unbeaten run to seven games in Sky Bet League One.

Victory saw the hosts move out of the bottom four for the first time this season, with Scunthorpe United’s win over Bristol Rovers seeing them climb above the Pirates.

The U’s were good value for the three points, Ricky Holmes and Henry going close before the break.

Henry then broke the deadlock from the penalty spot on 59 minutes after Marcus Browne was fouled by goalkeeper Tomas Holy and the hosts comfortably saw out victory on military day at the Kassam Stadium.

With his squad depleted by injury, suspension and international duty, boss Karl Robinson made three changes from the side which faced Forest Green Rovers in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend.

Sam Long and Josh Ruffels replaced Tony McMahon and Luke Garbutt in the full back positions.

At the top of the pitch, Holmes was handed a starting role despite an ongoing back issue in place of Gavin Whyte, who is away with Northern Ireland.

United were also forced in to naming a youthful bench, with Slavi Spasov and Harvey Bradbury selected in a league matchday squad for the first time.

The hosts still had plenty of experience on the pitch, with captain John Mousinho making his 400th career start.

United had the first shot on goal in an even opening period, Browne firing a fourth-minute free-kick just over the bar.

But the hosts had an early let-off on nine minutes when Curtis Nelson was dispossessed, and the ball ricocheted into the path of Regan Charles-Cook.

The winger raced through and slotted past goalkeeper Simon Eastwood, but to the U’s relief the offside flag had been raised.

United began to take control and create chances.

Holmes danced along the area before firing in a low effort which Holy pushed behind for a corner.

The Gillingham No 1 was tested again moments later, beating away a fizzing effort from Henry after Mousinho did brilliantly to keep an attack alive by bravely winning a loose ball in the centre of midfield.

Robinson’s side were on top and they could have taken the lead on 33 minutes.

Holmes, instrumental throughout the first half, once again let fly from range and Holy could only parry into the path of Sam Smith.

With the angle narrowing, the Reading loanee chose to square for an on-rushing teammate, but his pass was agonisingly behind Browne and Gillingham hacked clear.

United continued to pile the pressure on and created another opening, but Holmes shot tamely at Holy as the sides could not be separated at the break.

Nelson, barring the early error, and Rob Dickie had marshalled the league’s top-scorer Tom Eaves well throughout the first half.

But the Gills started well after the break and Charles-Cook wriggled free and fired an effort straight at Eastwood for the visitors’ first shot on goal after 47 minutes.

Their best chance arrived moments later when Mark Byrne dispossessed Henry and played in Brandon Hanlan.

The striker outpaced Rob Dickie and raced into the area, before firing narrowly wide.

United had made a sluggish start to the half and Robinson reacted with a double change introducing Bradbury for his league debut and Jamie Hanson for Smith and Holmes.

Within minutes of the substitutions the U’s went ahead.

Cameron Brannagan sent Browne racing into the area and he was sent sprawling by Holy on the right-hand side of the area.

Referee Neil Hair consulted with his fourth official before pointing to the spot and Henry calmly fired into the top right-hand corner.

The visitors now had to push for a way back into the game, but instead they started to lose their heads with captain Gabriel Zakuani booked following an off the ball incident with Bradbury.

The 19-year-old’s physical presence was causing Gillingham problems and United went close to doubling their lead on 76 minutes.

Browne rampaged forward on the counter and found Henry on the left, who cut inside and took his time before curling a fine effort against the post.

The U’s could have all but put the contest to bed, but instead they entered the last ten minutes with a slender lead.

Mousinho crucially cut out Charles-Cook's cross at the near post, before hacking clear when the ball dropped dangerously in the area.

But the visitors were unable to create anything meaningful as the U's comfortably saw out the remainder of the game to secure a crucial win.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, Long, Dickie, Nelson, Ruffels, Mousinho, Brannagan, Henry, Holmes (Hanson 56), Browne, Smith (Bradbury 56).

Unused subs: Mitchell, Norman, Raglan, Lopes, Spasov.

Booked: Brannagan, Browne.

Gillingham (4-4-2): Holy, O'Neill, Ehmer, Zakuani, Fuller, Charles-Cook, Bingham, Byrne, List, Hanlan, Eaves.

Unused subs: Lacey, Oldaker, Mbo, Rees, Stevenson, Hadler, Ogilvie.

Booked: Zakuani.

Referee: Neil Hair (Peterborough).

Attendance: 6,628 (521 visitors).