WITH two of Sky Bet League One’s most inconsistent sides going head-to-head, this one was always going to be hard to predict.

But none of us saw this Oxford United performance coming.

The U’s visited Crewe Alexandra with the play-offs looking out of reach for the first time in three months and it felt like end-of-season fare for the first 37 minutes.

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United were not playing badly, but possession rarely translated into clear chances and, on the one occasion it did, Mark Sykes' finishing let him down.

From the moment Josh Ruffels made it 1-0, though, everything they touched turned to goals.

The opener was fashioned down the U's right flank, where Karl Robinson had stationed Elliot Lee to allow Sam Long space to overlap.

Those plans worked like a dream for the first hour, with Lee and James Henry, the latter playing on the right of a midfield three, proving hard to pick up and dragging defenders out of position.

Karl Robinson: We got our game-plan right

Crewe made it easy for United to score their second and third, but the fact that the goals came from a high press and a set-piece respectively was no accident.

These two areas have served the U's well this season, but you need assists of the quality provided by Brandon Barker and Henry.

The Rangers loanee was simply a cut above yesterday and there are few players in this division who can combine the directness, pace and finish he did for United's fourth.

It was fitting that Cameron Brannagan and Sam Winnall, two players who needed a goal, rounded off the win, but Sykes deserved to be on the scoresheet.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch all the goals

The midfielder produced the performance we know he can, but would love to see more consistently, showing vision, creativity and confidence – most significantly when his footwork bamboozled Omar Beckles and won United their second-half penalty.

The record-equalling win offers hope that the play-offs are still attainable, although the U's remain reliant on several teams above them slipping up.

United are still outsiders, but this performance will have plenty of their rivals looking nervously over their shoulders.