A goal at the start and end of the game was enough to undo Pools at The Kassam Stadium as Oxford United boosted their automatic promotion push with a 2-0 win.
While Pools were able to enjoy their fair share of possession during the game, they were unable to match Oxford’s cutting edge in front of goal and fell to their second successive defeat.
Craig Hignett opted to restore Carl Magnay, Nicky Featherstone, Lewis Hawkins and Luke James in to his starting eleven, while Michael Woods recovered from illness in time to take his place in the side.
And it was Pools who began the contest in more confident fashion, getting on the ball and passing it around an Oxford side who showed some glimpses of the nerves brought about by their chase for automatic promotion.
However, it was The U’s who broke the deadlock – when the tricky Alex MacDonald escaped down the right to lift the ball across to fellow winger Chris Maguire on the left of the area; he teed up Liam Sercombe whose first time shot crashed off the bar straight to Kemar Roofe who volleyed home.
The summer signing from West Brom has been a revelation for Oxford this term and his delight was obvious as he celebrated his 24th goal of the campaign and in the process ending a run of five without – the longest he’s gone all season without finding the net.
After that, the hosts began to dictate play and it was Pools who looked under pressure though Nathan Thomas almost conjured a leveller when he sent a typically teasing ball low across the six-yard box but unfortunately nobody in blue could connect decisively.
At the other end, Roofe continued to probe at the Pools defence and after dropping a shoulder in to the area he fizzed a ball across to MacDonald but he could only angle a shot wide at the far post.
Danny Hylton came closer to doubling the home side’s lead after good work by Maguire down the left but the U’s front man’s first-time effort at the front post flew wide of Trevor Carson’s goal.
Hylton remained a threat through and, after peeling out to the left wing, he somehow managed to wriggle his way right in to the box where Carl Magnay arrived in the nick of time to hack it clear.
Michael Woods and Nicky Featherstone helped Pools gain a foothold back in the game as the half drew to a close, the duo cleverly exchanging passes and getting Hignett’s men get moving.
And it was Woods’ combination with Luke James which provided a half chance for the latter just before the break but James couldn’t quite generate enough power as he shot on the turn and his effort was held by Benji Buchel.
Pools began the second half with a sense of control too, dictating possession again but still struggling to make inroads against a resolute U’s backline.
However, the hosts began to grow in to things as the half wore on and Maguire could have set up a second goal when he drilled a low ball across goal just out of the reach of Roofe in the middle.
And they came even closer to doubling their lead when they broke four on two and Hylton was teed up for a shot – only for Jackson to slide in with a perfectly-timed last gasp tackle to deny the forward.
The crowd’s volume was increasing as they sensed a second goal but Pools were riding their luck and MacDonald’s low ball fizzed along the edge of the six-yard area ahead of everyone in yellow.
Nathan Thomas then wriggled infield from the right wing and got in to enough space to let fly but his powerful low drive was just about handled by Buchel in the Oxford goal.
Oxford substitute Callum O’Dowda did well to break through the Pools backline but could not beat Trevor Carson who stood tall to block the shot with his feet.
As the nerves grew inside The Kassam Stadium, Pools began to press more on the back of the introduction of Rakish Bingham and Rhys Oates; Thomas whipped a free-kick in from the left but Bates glanced a header just wide of the far post.
Then Oates delivered a dangerous left-wing corner in to the front post where Bates flicked it on but Bingham couldn’t quite force it over the line and Che Dunkley hacked it clear off the line.
As Pools chased the game, Carson was left exposed again as substitute James Roberts raced clear down the left and cut the ball back for Maguire but his powerful shot was brilliantly turned over by the keeper.
However, Carson had no answer when Liam Sercombe robbed Lewis Hawkins on the left corner of the penalty area and slalomed in to the box to finish neatly in to the corner of the net to secure a priceless win for Oxford.
Full Time: Oxford United 2 Pools 0
Bookings: Bates (38), Hawkins (63), Carroll (64)
Attendance: 7,955 (277 Pools)
Oxford United: Buchel, Kenny, Wright, Dunkley, Skarz (Lundstram 65), MacDonald (Roberts 79), Sercombe, Ruffels, Maguire, Roofe (O’Dowda 57), Hylton
Subs Not Used: Slocombe, Mullins, Waring, Bowery.
Pools: Carson, Magney, Bates, Jackson, Carroll, Hawkins, Featherstone, Woods (Bingham 79), Gray (Oates 70), James (Duckworth 85), Thomas
Subs Not Used: Bartlett, Richards, Laurent, R Jones.