OXFORD United had nothing to show for all their possession as a pair of headers gave Lincoln City the points on the opening day of the Sky Bet League One season.

It took the visitors almost an hour to have a shot of any kind against an Imps side who led through Anthony Scully’s early header and then set out to frustrate.

United, who also lost Josh Ruffels to a shoulder injury, lacked penetration in the final third until after they fell 2-0 behind when Adam Jackson headed in James Jones’s 74th-minute free-kick.

It took three outstanding stops from Alex Palmer to thwart the visitors in the latter stages, but it proved too little too late as Michael Appleton’s well-organised side held firm to take the points.

To round off a poor afternoon for United, Atkinson was harshly sent off in stoppage time for bringing down Harry Anderson.

An injury to Alex Gorrin saw Liam Kelly come into the starting line-up in the only change from the Carabao Cup tie against AFC Wimbledon a week earlier.

New signing Sam Winnall was not ready to make the squad, while Joel Cooper was only on the bench as Mark Sykes was asked to do a job on the left flank.

The sunny conditions were reminiscent of United’s visit a year ago, but any hopes there would be a repeat of the 6-0 success were quickly snuffed out.

Just seven minutes were on the clock when Lincoln opened the scoring, capitalising on a mistake in possession from Rob Atkinson.

It destabilised United’s back four as Harry Anderson broke into space down the right and his cross found Scully, who had got away from Sam Long to head in firmly from close range.

With a lead established, Lincoln looked happy to concede possession as they dropped deep and stayed compact.

The Imps were playing like an away side, but it proved a strategy which United struggled to break down.

While some mediocre deliveries from wide areas did not help, Lincoln’s back four were never worried in a first half where Karl Robinson’s side failed to muster any sort of effort on goal.

It was all a bit safe on the ball, with no-one in attacking areas looking to take players on.

Being caught on the break was a concern, as Lincoln timed their bursts forward. When the Imps did spring into attacking areas they had success in finding spaces, with the visitors lacking Gorrin’s natural firefighting abilities.

Even so, they only stretched Simon Eastwood once – a dipping effort from James Jones which was tipped over by the goalkeeper.

United’s afternoon got worse after the break.

A pass from Cameron Brannagan sent Ruffels into a 50/50 challenge with TJ Eyoma which saw the full back land awkwardly.

He tried to play on after treatment, but within seconds it was clear the left shoulder was not right and Sean Clare was brought on.

United’s wait for an effort on goal was ended just before the hour mark by a Brannagan effort from range which Palmer parried.

The goalkeeper also blocked an effort from Sykes after Long’s cross fell kindly, but the need for more of a cutting edge saw Cooper introduced for his debut midway through the half.

But the winger had hardly got into the action when Lincoln doubled their lead.

Elliott Moore appeared to get to the ball first but the referee awarded Tom Hopper a free-kick 25 yards out.

Jones’s delivery was excellent and Jackson buried his downward header from six yards which gave Eastwood no chance.

Palmer made another good save to keep out a deflected Brannagan effort as United searched for a way back into the game.

The stopper’s best moments came late on, as he kept out Matty Taylor’s volley before making an even better stop to deny Sykes on the rebound.

That signalled it was not going to be United’s day, with Atkinson's dismissal rubbing salt in the wounds with seconds remaining. 

Lincoln C (4-3-3): Palmer, Eyoma, Montsma, Jackson, Roughan (Melbourne 90), McGrandles, Grant, Jones, Anderson, Hopper, Scully (Morton 85).

Unused subs: Long, Edun, Bradley, Howarth, Elbouzedi.

Booked: None.

Oxford Utd (4-3-3): Eastwood, Long, Moore, Atkinson, Ruffels (Clare 57), Kelly (Agyei 77), Brannagan, McGuane (Cooper 67), Sykes, Taylor, Henry.

Unused subs: Stevens, Mousinho, Forde, Osei.

Booked: Clare, Atkinson.

Red card: Atkinson.

Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire).