A FEROCIOUS first-half display saw Oxford United ease past Doncaster Rovers as they slashed the gap to the Sky Bet League One play-off places.

Matty Taylor ended his 14-game goal drought with two instinctive finishes, as he swivelled to finish from close range before applying the final touch following Josh Ruffels’ header.

The U’s top-scorer took his tally to 13 for the season, while Mide Shodipo is now on 11 after his classy finish put United out of sight before the break.

It is a welcome first win over a top-six side this season for United but, more importantly, they rise to eighth and are just two points shy of the play-offs.

A family bereavement meant Anthony Forde was unavailable, as Alex Gorrin returned to midfield in the only enforced change.

Jamie Hanson filled in at right back as he started back-to-back league games for the first time since May 2019, while in midfield Liam Kelly replaced Elliot Lee, who passed a late fitness test to make the bench.

Taylor and Brandon Barker were preferred to Dan Agyei and Mark Sykes in attack, with Shodipo moving across to the right wing.

Cameron Brannagan pushed high up to support United’s front three and the high press created the first meaningful chance of the game after seven minutes.

One of several poor clearances from Louis Jones fell to Kelly 25 yards out, but the midfielder could not get any power on the shot and the Doncaster goalkeeper recovered to gather.

The visitors also looked threatening in an end-to-end start, but Taylor soon got the crucial opener.

Barker had the beating of Doncaster right back Brad Halliday and he raced past his opponent to reach the ball first at the byline, before finding Brannagan with the cross.

The midfielder’s shot was blocked, but Taylor showed a striker’s instinct to latch on to the loose ball and fire underneath Jones for his first goal since January 23.

From then it was all United for the rest of the half, with Brannagan seeing a deflected effort tipped behind and Elliott Moore’s shot blocked from the following corner.

Both wingers looked right in the mood, with Shodipo just failing to find a yellow shirt after Kelly’s delicious pass dissected the Donny defence.

United were well on top and Taylor struck again four minutes before the break, albeit in more fortuitous circumstances.

Kelly lofted a free-kick to the back post after Shodipo was fouled on the left and an unmarked Ruffels headed on target, with the ball taking a nick off the striker before nestling in the net.

The U’s could have shut up shop before the break, but instead bagged their third of the night.

Tenacious play from Taylor and Barker won the ball on the edge of the visitors’ box and the Rangers loanee slipped in Shodipo, who fired into the far corner from 15 yards.

United had scored as many goals in 45 minutes as the previous eight games, but they were hungry for more at the start of the second half.

Jones got down well to his right to palm away Shodipo’s awkward 25-yard effort, before the goalkeeper tipped over Brannagan’s shot from the edge of the box.

Both players went close again during a ridiculous passage of play 11 minutes after the restart, when the U’s had three shots from close range blocked in quick succession.

Lee replaced Barker just after the hour mark, while Doncaster interim boss Andy Butler made three changes early in the half in an attempt to turn the tide.

The visitors threatened briefly, before Karl Robinson brought on Sykes, Agyei and Joe Grayson for Taylor, Kelly and Brannagan with 13 minutes left.

Agyei almost made the same impact as against Swindon Town seven days ago, only this time he fired inches past the far post from 18 yards after taking Shodipo’s pass on the turn.

The striker nearly repeated his goal at the County Ground in the closing stages as he shot just wide, after Taylor Richards stung Jack Stevens’ palms with a fierce effort.

The visitors rallied late on, but it was too little, too late.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Stevens, Hanson, Moore, Atkinson, Ruffels, Kelly (Grayson 77), Gorrin, Brannagan (Sykes 77), Shodipo (Hall 85), Taylor (Agyei 77), Barker (Lee 61).

Unused subs: Eastwood, Chambers-Parillon.

Booked: Hanson, Stevens.

Doncaster Rovers (4-2-3-1): Jones, Halliday, Wright, Anderson, Amos (Horton 63), Smith, Greaves (Gomes 63), Simoes (Lokilo 58), Richards, Coppinger (Williams 74), Okenabirhie.

Unused subs: Balcombe, Blythe, John.

Booked: Anderson, Smith.

Referee: Ben Toner (Lancashire).