Peter Leven may get most of the headlines for his spectacular goal, but it was keeper Ryan Clarke’s penalty save that enabled Oxford
United to hold on for a memorable 2-1 win against fellow promotion-cha-sers Port Vale.
Leven struck an amazing lob from 45 yards just after Marc Richards had equalised Michael Duberry’s first-half opener for Oxford.
Joey Beauchamp’s strike against Blackpool in 1996 was voted the best goal at the Manor, and Leven’s sublime finish has got to be up there.
But it was Clarke’s spot-kick save that took the U’s up to fourth in the table and just six points off the top.
What a difference a week makes though.
Last Saturday, the U’s bossed the game against Gillingham, only to go down to a 1-0 defeat after missing a host of chances.
But the 5-1 thrashing of Plymouth and a victory against a tough Vale side has demonstrated the strong character of the side.
As expected, Chris Wilder kept faith with almost the same 11 who started in the 5-1 midweek thrashing of Plymouth, with James Constable once again leading the line.
The only change was at right back where Andy Whing replaced Damian Batt, who was suspended for one match for collecting his fifth booking of the season against the Pilgrims.
Oxford had started well with Alfie Potter looking dangerous as did Rob Hall as the visitors were kept on the back foot.
And they should have been ahead, but Leven fired over after the ball fell to him outside the area, after Vale failed to deal with a deep cross from Whing.
But on 11 minutes the U’s pressure paid off.
Rob Hall did well to win a corner, with Duberry heading in Leven’s right wing kick for his first goal in Oxford colours – and his first for six years.
Oxford were getting men forward at every opportunity, with Hall shooting straight at Stuart Tomlinson in the Vale goal before minutes later curling a shot just wide.
Leven then went close with a delightful chip that just dropped over the bar.
Potter had the ball in the net on 25 minutes only to be flagged off side.
Clarke then made a super flying save to keep out Doug Loft’s thunderous drive from the edge of the area.
Sean Rigg fired over as United’s backline held firm, with Paul McLaren mopping up any danger in an impressive midfield three.
Whing did well to get a foot in as Richards threatened, before minutes later Jake Wright twice made brilliant blocks from Loft in quick succession.
After the break, Potter had a chance to make it 2-0, but miskicked as he looked to convert Constable’s excellent cut-back on the right, with Leven shooting wide.
Hall had a shot saved by the keeper, but a swift break saw Vale equalise, when Richards put away Rigg’s right wing cross after United’s defence went to sleep.
But Oxford’s response was almost immediate and what a goal it was.
There appeared no danger when Leven picked the ball up near the centre circle before lobbing the back-pedalling Tomlinson from 45 yards.
Potter then fired just over as the U’s tried to build on their lead before Simon Heslop had a piledriver kept out by Tomlinson.
But Vale still looked threatening on the break.
Constable was inches away from making it 3-1, when he got a foot to Heslop’s right wing cross, while Clarke did well to grab Gareth Owen’s header at the second attempt.
Six minutes from time, Vale had the chance to level when Duberry was harshly adjud-ged to have fouled Richards.
But Clarke made an unbelievable stop to his left to keep out his well-struck effort.
Seconds later, the keeper did brilliantly to keep out substitute Ben Williamson from close range.
But a Vale equaliser would have been tough on Oxford who dominated, so it was that man Leven’s goal and Clarke’s save that everyone was talking about as United held on.