THERE were three separate occasions either side of Oxford United's equaliser when Mide Shodipo, Mark Sykes and Brandon Barker each raced back to win the ball and thwart a Lincoln City counter-attack.

The trio are not known for their defensive capabilities, but such hunger out-of-possession showed why the U's held on for a huge victory.

A ten-day spell in which wins over promotion-chasing Doncaster Rovers and Lincoln have sandwiched bleak defeats to Blackpool and Northampton Town perfectly sums up this unpredictable Sky Bet League One season.

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Most teams' performances have varied wildly and if United had not lost to the division's lowest scorers on Tuesday they would be in the play-offs this morning.

The tenacity that was missing in the U's previous two games well and truly returned against the Imps, who were depleted and rocked by Covid - but showed why they are fourth in the table.

Their opener was ruthless, as Morgan Rogers exploited the space to feed the overlapping Tayo Edun, although United will be disappointed they let Anthony Scully take a touch before scoring.

With Conor McGrandles difficult to pick up in an advanced midfield role and full-backs Cohen Bramall and Regan Poole pushing high up, the U's had to be switched on defensively.

But they stayed calm and hauled themselves back into the game.

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Sykes, Shodipo and Barker have already been mentioned, but Cameron Brannagan was everything you want a deep-lying midfielder to be.

His hunger to win the ball back was as clear in the last minute as the first, and when the 24-year-old had possession he used it intelligently.

Brannagan was helped by having James Henry and Sykes either side of him, two players who find pockets of space to receive passes in dangerous positions.

There are few players who deserved a goal as much as Anthony Forde and he followed up his strike by showing he is just as adept at left back as every other position he is asked to fill in.

It would also have been good to see Sykes' header beat Alex Palmer in the second half, but Matty Taylor reminded us why you can never write him off with a strikers' finish.

United now have a few days' break and they will probably recharge much quicker - psychologically, at least - having won last night.

With a tricky trip to Sunderland in six days' time, they will need all the rest they can get.