OXFORD United took a big step towards preserving their Sky Bet League One status as Curtis Nelson’s close-range finish saw them beat play-off chasing Coventry City.

The centre back bundled in the only goal of the game just before the hour mark from Cameron Brannagan’s corner.

City had come closest to breaking the deadlock in a tight first half, Amadou Bakayoko hitting the woodwork with a header.

Simon Eastwood, on his 150th U’s start, was impressive and made two superb saves to keep out Luke Thomas on the way to his 48th clean sheet for the club.

It secured a fourth win in six matches, United’s best run of the season at just the right time to ease themselves away from the bottom four.

While another couple of wins are still required to stay up, they now have a four-point gap over the relegation zone with seven matches to play.

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Jamie Mackie, fresh from scoring a 94th-minute winner as a substitute a week earlier, was promoted among three changes to the starting line-up.

Marcus Browne came in to play in support, while Luke Garbutt was also recalled as Jerome Sinclair and James Henry dropped to the bench and Gavin Whyte was away on international duty.

A month ago the trip to Coventry did not look too demanding, but a strong run had catapulted Mark Robins’ side into the play-off fight.

They started brightly and Luke Thomas was found three times in the opening three minutes on the right flank. The last of the chances was the best, forcing Simon Eastwood into a smart block after Amadou Bakayoko had got the better of Nelson and cut the ball back six yards out.

United had to scrap hard to weather the storm, but eventually got back on an even keel.

They forced a handful of set pieces without truly threatening, as teammates struggled to stay on the same wavelength while in possession.

City were being frustrated, but midway through the half should have taken the lead.

Oxford Mail:

  • Jamie Mackie wins the ball in midfield

While the vast majority of their threat came down the right with Thomas, their best chance arrived via an excellent delivery from the opposite flank.

Brandon Mason’s cross was perfect for Bakayoko, who rose between Rob Dickie and Josh Ruffels but saw his header hit the inside of the far post and ricochet to safety off Eastwood.

United breathed a sigh of relief, before creating a headed chance of their own on the half-hour mark.

Cameron Brannagan’s corner looked on a plate for Nelson, but from six yards out the centre back could only glance the opening wide.

City goalkeeper Lee Burge was finally forced into action in the 42nd minute, getting down to his right to turn Garbutt’s 20-yard effort round the post.

The hosts cleared the resulting corner, but within seconds Garbutt was charging forward again. The Everton loanee rode a couple of challenges all the way into the penalty area, but was denied a spectacular goal when his right-footed shot hit a defender’s outstretched leg.

City started the second half as they had the first. Again Thomas was their outlet and the midfielder must have thought he had scored three minutes after the restart, but Eastwood made a terrific one-handed save.

Nelson cleared the rebound before Bakayoko could tap into the gaping net.

The centre back was on hand to make a decisive contribution at the other end nine minutes later. Mackie’s anticipation forced a cheap corner, from which Nelson bundled in Brannagan’s delivery to the back post.

Suddenly, City were wobbling.

Garbutt forced Burge into two saves in quick succession, the latter of which was an excellent save to keep out his back-post header from Graham’s cross.

United’s spell in the ascendancy was brief and they quickly had to prioritise staying solid defensively.

There was plenty of work to do at the back, but City lacked a spark going forward.

Karl Robinson brought on the fresh legs of Henry, Sinclair and John Mousinho to help the process of preserving the lead.

It worked, too, as City were kept at arm’s length in a surprisingly calm closing stages.

Coventry C (4-2-3-1): Burge, Sterling, Willis, Hyam, Mason, Bayliss (Ponticelli 79), Kelly, Thomas (Shipley 72), Enobakhare, Hiwula, Bakayoko.

Unused sub: Addai, Grimmer, Davies, Meyler, Brown.

Booked: Hiwula.

Oxford Utd (4-4-1-1): Eastwood, Long, Nelson, Dickie, Ruffels, Graham (Mousinho 82), Kashi, Brannagan, Garbutt, Browne (Henry 66), Mackie (Sinclair 78).

Unused subs: Stevens, Jones, Sykes, Lopes.

Booked: Browne, Graham, Garbutt.

Referee: Scott Oldham (Lancashire).

Attendance: 14,044 (2,007 visitors).