JEROME Sinclair’s second-half double secured Oxford United a precious victory at home to Scunthorpe United which kept them out of the Sky Bet League One relegation zone.

The Watford loanee got off the mark for the U’s by heading in Mark Sykes’s 65th-minute cross and followed it up a quarter of an hour later from John Mousinho’s delicious delivery.

It sparked life into a contest which had been truly dire for an hour, but the home side looked a different animal once Gavin Whyte was introduced from the bench.

United opened up in the closing stages against a Scunthorpe side who never really tested goalkeeper Simon Eastwood until George Thomas’s 92nd-minute consolation.

It meant Sinclair’s brace was the difference, securing back-to-back league wins for the first time since April.

The U’s needed it, too – only a victory would have kept them out of the bottom four.

Whyte, Marcus Browne and Jamie Mackie were all fit to return, but had to make do with places on the bench as Karl Robinson named an unchanged side.

While it was the same line-up which ground out a 1-0 win at Blackpool a week earlier, the head coach said before the game he did not want the midfield to be as flat.

But United’s wide men, Jordan Graham and Luke Garbutt, found it difficult to get forward in a first half where the hosts carried precious little attacking threat.

Also read: Jerome Sinclair buzzing with brace

They were on the back foot in the early stages, with Eastwood needing to be alert to keep out a Funso Ojo shot from the edge of the box in only the second minute.

Sam Long also did superbly to ease Olufela Olomola off the ball in the six-yard box as Scunthorpe pressed again in the early stages.

It took the U’s 20 minutes to carve out anything which could be described as a chance, but when it came it was the clearest opening of the half.

Good work from Josh Ruffels in his own half saw the full back launch a counter-attack. Sinclair collected the ball out wide on the halfway line and spotted Sykes’s run through a huge gap in the Iron defence.

But the Northern Irishman, on his home debut, took a heavy touch and Tom Pearce got across to snuff out he danger.

Sykes may still have been mulling over the missed opportunity four minutes later, when he and Sinclair went for the same ball on the edge of the Scunthorpe penalty area.

The pair fell over, allowing the visitors to surge forward, but Pearce’s shot from range was easy for Eastwood.

That was as exciting as the first half got, with the home fans growing impatient at their side’s lack of chances.

They did at least see Scunthorpe goalkeeper Jak Alnwick make a save, as he gathered a weak Sykes shot from 20 yards with the last kick of the half.

Oxford Mail:

  • Mark Sykes battles for possession

Little changed at the start of the second half, but the introduction of Whyte just before the hour mark lifted the home crowd.

Within seconds he had forced United’s first corner and when that was cleared the winger was the one who sprinted across to snuff out the counter-attack.

It appeared to take the handbrake off for the home side, who were ahead in the 65th minute.

Sykes collected a ball into the penalty area and worked space for a cross into the six-yard box, where Sinclair got in front of his marker to head into the net.

The striker quickly had a chance for a second goal following Whyte’s 50-yard burst and cross, but after making space for himself the ball then got caught under his studs.

Oxford Mail:

  • Josh Ruffels plays the ball forward against Scunthorpe

But he was not to be denied – and was again in the right place to head home ten minutes from time.

This time the delivery came from Mousinho, who was in unfamiliar territory out wide but whipped in a fantastic cross which Sinclair powered into the net.

It gave United the cushion in the closing stages which they needed when Thomas converted from close range in stoppage-time.

Robinson’s side had squandered a 3-0 lead in November’s reverse fixture, but thankfully here they negotiated a nervy spell.

Long made two superb blocks at the death, before the final whistle brought relief.

Oxford Utd (4-1-4-1): Eastwood, Long, Nelson, Dickie, Ruffels, Mousinho, Graham (Browne 85), Sykes, Henry, Garbutt (Whyte 59), Sinclair (Mackie 90).

Unused subs: Stevens, Hanson, Carruthers, Smith.

Booked: None.

Scunthorpe Utd (4-1-2-1-2): Alnwick, McGahey, McArdle, Burgess, Pearce, Perch, Sutton (Lewis 67), Ojo, Novak (Thomas 72), Olomola (Van Veen 72), Wootton.

Unused subs: Flatt, Ben El-Mhanni, Butroid, Hammill.

Booked: Sutton, Burgess.

Referee: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire).

Attendance: 6,237 (295 visitors).