Oxford Utd 2-1 Lincoln City: U's back to winning ways with James Henry show
(Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport/ Getty Images)

Current Oxford United boss Karl Robinson locked horns with former boss Michael Appleton on Friday night in front of the Sky cameras. As both sides looked to get back to winning ways, it was United who clinched all three points.

The victory propelled the U's to seventh place in League One, level on points with playoff placed, Blackpool. It was a crucial triumph that helped alleviate the pressures of being stuck at the back of the chasing pack.

Although it was Lincoln City's sumptuous team goal that opened the scoring at Grenoble Road, goals from Anthony Forde and Matty Taylor secured three points for the U's.

As for the Imps, they drop into fourth place, after leading the pack just a month before the game, having accrued four points more than second-placed Hull City

  • Story of the match

Karl Robinson answered his critics with a roll of the dice in midfield on Friday night. A midfield trio of Cameron Brannagan, Mark Sykes and the returning James Henry was employed to rectify United's glaring wastefulness in recent games.

It was one of those midfield changes, James Henry, who carved the first chance of the night. His delivery from a wide free-kick was too high for Rob Atkinson to get enough of his head on the ball to test the goalkeeper. 

Henry persisted as the most prominent problem to the Imps throughout the first half. His two long-range efforts within 20 minutes posed a threat to the Imps goal. The Englishman was proving that his absence was a thorn in the U's recent defeats. 

However, it was Lincoln City who scored the first goal of the game. In only the fourth minute, against the run of play. Through the ethos of Michael Appleton's play out from the back system, fortune favoured the brave for Anthony Scully.

The Imps played through the lines, manifesting a scintillating team goal, taking the lead with their first attack. Tayo Edin elected to pass rather than shoot when he arrived in the box, much to the delight of Scully, who scrambled the ball past Jack Stevens

Robinson's men almost found the answer to Lincoln's opener on the 25th minute. A Josh Ruffels guided shot was palmed away by Alex Palmer before a subsequent penalty appeal was waved away by the referee after a mistimed tackle on Atkinson wasn't seen. 

The U's found a rhythm in the game after the opener, with the Yellows passing the ball diligently for the majority of the first 45 minutes. Their midfield composition was a cause for concern for Appleton's side.

It wasn't long until their dominance was converted into a goal.

Josh Ruffels was sidelined, which made way for Anthony Forde. The substitution became instrumental to the equaliser as the winger drove home a goal that fell to him on a plate after a pinball in the box following a corner.

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  • Second half

As one of the final winter sunsets omitted, leaving Grenoble Road in all but floodlit darkness, the first fixture of the League One game week exemplified the quality on offer in England's third tier.

Attritional football was the order for the opening minutes of the second half. Both teams contained one another, leading to an untidy start to proceedings. 

A clear-cut chance did finally come to fruition on the 56th minute when Matty Taylor capitalised on the Imps' lax in concentration. 

The visitors tried to play out the back, which for once cost them an error. James Henry was alive to the chance and cannon-balled forward before crossing a ball into the onrushing Sykes. The Northern Irishman's header was pushed into the number nine, who made no mistake in burying his shot.

Oxford led for the first time in the game and looked full value in holding onto their lead, playing in full throttle, utilising the creativity that Henry possessed upon every opportunity. 

Winning the ball high upfield on countless occasions, Robinson's midfield blueprint was at the forefront of United successes on a night that meant so much for the Midlands club. 

The Imps were lacklustre throughout the second half; they looked disjointed and sterile. A combination that violates Appleton's fast-paced footballing philosophy that was adored by the Oxford Utd fans under his helm.

Their Jekyll and Hyde season built more momentum on Friday night as united held on to claim a valuable win at the expense of Lincoln's automatic promotion dreams.

  • Takeaways

James Henry's absence was the reason for wastefulness

Oxford Utd had looked flat in attack in games before tonight, but the return of Henry proved pivotal to their successes on Friday. A more attacking midfield blueprint instilled by Robinson was translated into a positive result.

The Englishman oozed creativity and confidence during his stint on the pitch. Furthermore, his ability to be everywhere at once gave his teammates the license to go forward. 

Imps were exposed

Michael Appleton has been somewhat notorious for instating a system that relies on his Lincoln City side to play out from the back. However, the U's were able to exploit this system and reap the rewards of a high press.

Lincoln now find themselves treading on barebones when it comes to picking a starting eleven; Injuries and the virus have conjured ebb and flow to recent form. Their system doesn't work on their limited resources, leading to exploitation.