OXFORD United returned to winning ways against Shrewsbury Town without the presence of Karl Robinson.

Mark Sykes and Cameron Brannagan each scored their third goal of the season to book-end the second half and give the U’s victory over the Sky Bet League One strugglers.

It was all done with Robinson watching from home as he waited for the result of a PCR test, meaning assistant manager Craig Short and John Mousinho were on the touchline.

The U’s laboured before the break, with Matty Taylor seeing a goal disallowed, but a better second half saw them claim all three points.

It was also a welcome clean sheet for United – just their third of the campaign – as they climbed to eighth in the table.

United’s line-up showed two changes from Saturday’s defeat to Plymouth Argyle, plus a return to 4-3-3.

Alex Gorrin came back into midfield and Mark Sykes started on the right wing, with James Henry and Nathan Holland rested.

The rain fell steadily throughout a scrappy first half, where neither side could assert their authority.

Shrewsbury’s best chance came after just 11 minutes, when Tom Bloxham flashed an effort just past the far post from Dan Udoh’s cross.

It signalled a good spell from the visitors, but the home fans soon found their voice as United looked for their first sight of goal.

That took 17 minutes to arrive, Taylor heading over after he was found by Steve Seddon, but a much clearer opening came 60 seconds later.

Marko Marosi flapped at a Sykes cross and the ball fell to Brannagan 12 yards out. The midfielder’s scuffed shot found Taylor in the six-yard box, only for the striker to be denied by a desperate block.

Shaun Whalley and Gorrin shot over from range, the latter effort deflecting off a Shrewsbury head, but as the half-hour mark came and went neither side had really threatened.

Gavin Whyte swapped wings with Sykes and the Northern Ireland international began to link well with Taylor.

The No 9 headed over after his teammate found a yard of space to dig out a cross, before finding the net – illegally - six minutes before the break.

Taylor met Jordan Thorniley’s crossfield pass with a header down to Whyte and immediately raced into the box.

He received the return pass and beat Marosi, only for the linesman to flag for offside.

It was the only shot on target of a frustrating first half, but United took just 58 seconds to find the net again – and this time it counted.

There was an element of fortune, as Sykes cut in from the left and saw his shot nestle in the far corner with Taylor’s presence distracting Marosi.

United visibly perked up and Brannagan should have done better five minutes later, heading wide when Sykes’s cross found him unmarked at the far post.

Sam Long sent a cross-shot agonisingly between Taylor and the far post, while Sykes continued to look bright as he switched flanks with Whyte.

United’s momentum stalled around the midway point of the half and they had Elliott Moore to thank 20 minutes from time, the defender heading behind as Ryan Bowman looked set to score from six yards out.

The U’s should have had another goal themselves moments later, but Brannagan lifted his effort well over from 15 yards after he had time to pick his spot.

United made a double substitution as Henry and Holland replaced Herbie Kane and Whyte, while Shrewsbury brought on Josh Daniels for Tom Bloxham.

Taylor sent a Sykes cross just past the near post moments later, before Shrewsbury forwards Sam Cosgrove and Rekeil Pyke came on for Bowman and Udoh in search of an equaliser.

It was United who got the crucial next goal, though.

A Henry corner was headed only as far as Brannagan 20 yards out and the midfielder steadied himself before finding the bottom corner.

Oxford United (4-3-3): Stevens, Long, Moore, Thorniley, Seddon, Gorrin, Kane (Henry 73), Brannagan, Sykes, Taylor (Agyei 88), Whyte (Holland 73).

Unused subs: Eastwood, Forde, Williams, Bodin.

Booked: None.

Shrewsbury Town (4-3-3): Marosi, Pennington, Ebanks-Landell, Pierre, Ogbeta, Bennett, Davis, Whalley, Udoh (Pyke 79), Bowman (Cosgrove 79), Bloxham (Daniels 75).

Unused subs: Burgoyne, Wilson, Caton, Leshabela.

Booked: None.

Referee: Craig Hicks (Surrey).

Attendance: 5,763 (221 visitors).