A DEPLETED Oxford United dug deep to beat Fleetwood Town, despite having seven players out with Covid.

The U’s could only name a 16-man squad for the Sky Bet League One clash, but Luke McNally’s first goal in English football and a Cameron Brannagan strike put them 2-0 up inside 13 minutes.

United announced the signing of Connal Trueman on an emergency goalkeeper loan an hour before kick-off, although Jay Matete’s strike late in the first half denied the 25-year-old a clean sheet on debut.

Fleetwood used to be a bogey team for the U’s and you feared an equaliser after the break, only for Nathan Holland’s superb individual goal to seal victory.

It saw Karl Robinson’s side climb a place to seventh on their return to League One action.

United’s long list of unavailable players meant only McNally, birthday boy Herbie Kane and Billy Bodin kept their place from last Tuesday’s defeat at Bristol Rovers.

Trueman came straight into the line-up, with Jamie Hanson given a rare start at right back and Sam Long moving across to the middle.

Gavin Whyte got his chance through the middle, while Eddie Brearey and Tyler Goodrham were part of a League One squad for the first time on a five-man bench.

Robinson wanted United to play on the front foot, but even he would not have expected such a fast start.

They even scored from a set-piece for just the second time this season, McNally rising to meet Kane’s corner and head just inside the far post.

United were stringing passes together at pace and looked full of hunger, with Whyte almost stealing the ball off Alex Cairns’s toes when the goalkeeper hesitated in possession.

They were ruthless in and out of possession to go 2-0 up, with captain for the evening James Henry the architect.

The midfielder won possession and played a one-two with Bodin as he charged forward, before picking out Brannagan on the edge of the box.

United’s No 8 had time and space to pick his spot and beat Cairns low to his right for his fourth goal of the season.

Bodin fired over from Hanson’s cut-back, before Fleetwood’s horror start continued when Joe Garner went down injured on 20 minutes and was replaced by Shayden Morris.

The U’s were in control and Bodin could have made it three on the half-hour mark, but the ball would not sit down as he tried to convert Brannagan’s cross.

Fleetwood improved and Callum Morton headed wide from Callum Johnson’s cross, although United’s biggest scare to date came when McNally went down injured nine minutes before the break.

There was a collective ‘ahhh’ as the U’s fans considered the lack of defensive options, but the centre back got up and was okay to continue.

They had bigger things to worry about five minutes from half-time, when Matete – Fleetwood’s brightest player of the half – pulled a goal back.

Kane sold Hanson slightly short with a pass and the right back lost possession to the midfielder, who raced into the penalty area and poked past Trueman.

It set up a tense second half and Fleetwood had a penalty shout when Paddy Lane flicked the ball over McNally and went down, but the referee was unmoved.

Moments later, the centre back released Whyte with a ball over the top as Cairns scuttled back towards his line.

The Northern Ireland international took a touch to bring the ball down, but scuffed his shot at the keeper.

He had another sight of goal just after the hour mark, with the chance fashioned by two fantastic passes.

First, Seddon released Brannagan down the left and the midfielder played a beautiful reverse pass to find Whyte in the penalty area.

The forward took the ball to the byline and waited for Brannagan to arrive, only for the midfielder to shoot high and wide.

Marcus McGuane replaced Bodin, with Henry moving out to the right, and seconds later United had a huge third goal.

It was a moment of class from Holland, who darted in from the left, danced past a couple of challenges and whipped a fierce shot in off the far post.

Harrison Holgate and Ged Garner replaced James Clarke and Max Clark for Fleetwood, before Hanson went down and came off for Dan Agyei.

McGuane shot just wide of the far post, before Holland sent a shot over the bar, although the best late chance fell to Morton.

A hooked cross-shot found its way to the striker at the far post, but he sent his effort just wide.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Trueman, Hanson (Agyei 79), McNally, Long, Seddon, Henry, Kane, Brannagan, Bodin (McGuane 67), Whyte, Holland (Cooper 90).

Unused subs: Brearey, Goodrham.

Booked: Whyte.

Fleetwood Town (5-3-2): Cairns, Biggins, Callum Johnson, Clarke (Holgate 74), Andrew, Clark (G Garner 74), Batty, Matete, Lane, Morton, J Garner (Morris 20).

Unused subs: Crellin, McLaughlin, Edmondson, Carl Johnson.

Booked: Batty, Matete, Clark.

Referee: Ollie Yates (Staffordshire).

Attendance: 5,708 (59 visitors).