An early goal from Kemar Roofe
and an injury-time strike from Liam Sercombe
were enough to earn Oxford United a priceless three points against Hartlepool this afternoon. Roofe and Sercombe's goals gave the U's a 2-0 win that keeps them in the top three with just two games left of a fascinating season that is now sure to go down to the wire.
There was a surprise recall for Joe Skarz
at left back and Alex MacDonald
on the right wing, but the most significant change saw Roofe return up top after an ankle injury. It took the newly crowned League 2 Player of the Season just seven minutes to score the opener. It started with a long ball from Chey Dunkley
that MacDonald acrobatically hooked back. The ball was worked to the other flank for the excellent Chris Maguire
who teed up Liam Sercombe
for a shot at goal. His stabbed effort smacked against the bar but Roofe was alert and planted the ball back into the net for goal 26 of an excellent season.
Roofe's skills almost set up MacDonald for a second goal after 13, the low cross just too hard for MacDonald to steer on target, before the effervescent Danny Hylton
curled a shot just wide of the far post on 16. He then side-footed past the other upright after a flowing move from Roofe and Maguire as United continued to play some eye-catching football.
Hartlepool, with little to play for, were neat on the ball and inventive up front but hadn't really tested Benji Buchel
in the first half; Luke James's trickling effort on 43 the best they could muster after some more good approach play.
United started the second half at a fierce pace, pegging Pool back into a fierce defence of their own goal and dominating possession, without turning their territorial advantage into goals. Skarz and Roofe had played through the pain barrier and went off to huge applause around the hour mark, with Callum O'Dowda
an inch away from scoring with his first touch as a wicked MacDonald cross flew across the face of the goal. The winger was then unable to force the ball through Trevor Carson on 69 minutes as United once again worked their way through the overworked Pool defence.
There was a moment of anxiety when the lively Nicky Featherstone forced Buchel into a good save down to his left, and Matthew Bates almost upset everything with a flicked header on 73 that flashed past the right-hand post with the entire home defence willing it on its way.
However, most of the game had been played at the other end and had Carson not made his usual worldy against the U's when he somehow pushed a Maguire shot over on 88 then it might have been a little easier, even before Sercombe danced round three tired challenges and joyfully slammed the ball past the exposed Carson to settle things and calm any jangling nerves.
It may not have been the most free-flowing performance of the season, there may have been a few anxious moments at the end, including Dunkley having to clear off the line, but it doesn't matter. Win at all costs was the message ahead of the game and Michael Appleton's side had delivered.
Two to go: win them both and there is nothing the chasing pack can do.
See you at Carlisle.
Fifty 50 winning number 462981 wins £1,460
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels and Darrell Fisher
See Highlights and Reaction in Yellow Player