Two James Henry penalties and a well-taken effort from Cameron Brannagan gave Oxford United a relatively comfortable 3-0 win at home to Tranmere Rovers this afternoon.
United were full value for the three points after dominating much of the 90 minutes, with Henry's double the highlight of an excellent team performance.
They were perhaps grateful to Alex Gorrin for a brave early block in just the second minute as he closed down his man on the edge of the box, but after that were rarely troubled defensively despite an enforced change before the warm-up when Elliott Moore was ruled out after a back spasm and John Mousinho stepped up from sub to starter (and captain). Full credit to Mousinho's professionalism to step in like that and play a part in a clean sheet.
Perhaps the change did affect the early rhythm, with Jamie Mackie’s uneven battle with man-mountain Manny Monthe the highlight of the first few minutes until Tariqe Fosu cut inside and dragged a 15th-minute effort just wide as United started to get the ball down and play.
Fosu was then the key man as they took the lead midway through the half. Ben Woodburn, back in the side after an international break with Wales, closed down a defender on half way and blocked the ball through for Fosu, who sprinted away down the right with David Perkins in hot pursuit. Once inside the penalty area, Perkins closed his man down but did so a little clumsily and ref Rob Lewis took assistant Bhupinder Gill’s lead and pointed to the spot. Up popped Henry, Mr Reliable, and United were a goal ahead.
The goal lifted the U’s, who dominated the rest of the half. Henry whipped an effort just wide, Cadden ran riot down the right flank and Tranmere were pressed back for the second quarter of the game without the U's truly looking like extending their lead.
It was much the same in the second period, with Mackie taking a break from winding up his marker to prod a couple of chances wide of the mark, with United's only perilous moment coming when Rushian Hepburn-Murphy sprang clear but handled as he tried to round the onrushing Eastwood on the edge of the box.
With Woodburn showing some tantalising skills - one reverse pass for Fosu on 64 minutes was way above League 1 level - United were full value for their lead and the dangerous Fosu/Woodburn combination almost conjured up a second goal after 57 minutes, with Fosu's excellent cross just too strong for Woodburn to reach the the back post.
If you want to see what this United side are all about then watch the second goal back. Seventy minutes into the game and Brannagan started the ball rolling by tricking his way through two weak challenges and reversing a pass for Fosu. He and Woodburn exchanged passes, the ball was worked back and Brannagan drove it past the helpless Scott Davies to make it 2-0 and five goals from a highly impressive nine games so far for the influential midfielder, putting him well clear of Fankaty Dabo in the race to be top scorer.
Tranmere's number 9 Paul Mullin tamely headed their best chance of the afternoon into the gloves of the relaxed Eastwood, but defensively the U's were value for their clean sheet, while the industry and artistry of those further forward will win them plenty more games this season.
The icing on the cake came in the last minute when sub Shandon Baptiste tricked his way past Darren Potter who tripped him and gave Henry another chance from the spot. Did we mention he is pretty reliable? 3-0 and game over.
It may not feel like it so early in the campaign, but this was an important win after recent results and United had stood up well to the first little bit of pressure this season. Good signs and one big step forward.
On we go to Bolton on Tuesday...
See you there.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA