Struggling Oxford United slipped to within five points of the League One relegation zone with a narrow 1-0 loss at home to in-form Plymouth Argyle on Saturday.
The result was not much of a surprise given the current form table but even a much improved performance could not stop the U’s falling to a fifth defeat in six matches.
Sonny Bradley’s header in first half stoppage time proved to be the winner as sorry United lost their third successive match at the Kassam.
Midfielder Ryan Ledson admitted the squad is suffering from a lack of confidence, but that he was encourage by an improved performance.
The 20-year-old said: “We passed them off the park in the first half… [but] we’ve got to keep striving forward and hopefully put in more performances like that.
“It was our final ball or shot that let us down. We were getting into the positions, it’s just time to put them away. There’s maybe a lack of belief. Every team would be down with the run we’re on – but we’ve go to keep fighting and believing.”
Oxford are struggling for confidence and, on another day, James Henry and Alex Mowatt would have scored their first half chances. The latter was particularly culpable, blazing horribly wide from a Todd Kane cut back.
Caretaker boss Derek Fazackerley noticed an all-round improvement from his players.
He said: “The performance was head and shoulders above the previous week [a 2-1 home defeat to Bristol Rovers] when we were critical of the players.
“We asked them to play with courage, discipline and control and I thought they did that.
“We pretty much had them on the back foot for most of the second half but just couldn’t find a clear cut
Former United striker Ryan Taylor struck Simon Eastwood’s bar and Kane cleared a Carey effort off the line as the Pilgrims hunted a second goal.
Oxford, 15th on 41 points, became more threatening when Gino van Kessel and Malachi Napa were introduced but the U’s just could not force an opening.
Fazackerley admitted his side faces a “tough” fixture when they travel to Northampton Town, who sit one place above the relegation zone, on Saturday.