Match report: Oxford United 2 Port Vale 1
PORT Vale's unbeaten run on the road was ended when they sank to their second defeat in a row.
The Valiants went down 2-1 at Oxford, missing the chance to equal a club record 10 away games without losing.
Alfie Potter put the home side ahead, and though skipper Doug Loft fired Vale level with a great half-volley, United grabbed the points thanks to Deane Smalley's second-half winner.
The home side could have had three, but Vale keeper Chris Neal made a great save from Sean Rigg's late penalty.
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Boss Micky Adams made one change from Tuesday's defeat at home to Exeter with Ashley Vincent dropping out of the team.
Striker Ben Williamson came in to play alongside Tom Pope up front, with Calvin Andrew switching to Vincent's left-sided role.
Dan Jones was fit to resume at left-back despite suffering a stomach problem yesterday, while Lee Hughes was named as a substitute, with no keeper on the bench.
Oxford boss Chris Wilder rested both of his leading scorers, with James Constable and Tom Craddock having to sit it out as they did for United's win at Gillingham in midweek.
There was little in it during the early stages as both sides struggled on a bumpy pitch, but Oxford drew first blood after 10 minutes.
Darren Purse seemed under little pressure when he received the ball from a throw inside the Vale half. But the veteran made a complete mess of his backpass, allowing Potter to burst through and beat Chris Neal with a shot into the far corner.
Loft went close to an immediate reply when he fizzed a shot just wide after good work from Jennison Myrie-Williams, and he did even better after 16 minutes.
Dan Jones's cross was headed into the skipper's path by Tom Pope and Loft left fly with a half-volley from 22 yards which found the top corner of the net.
While Damien Batt was booked for a foul on Jones, there was little other goalmouth action of note during a forgettable first half, which ended when Oxford centre-half Michael Raynes glanced a corner from Adam Chapman just wide and Liam Davis fired over from 20 yards.
There was little action at the start of the second half either, though Jones and Josh Parker were both booked following a wrestling match on the Vale left.
The visitors went close just before the hour mark when Ryan Burge turned to send in a gorgeous chip which was touched on to the bar and over by United keeper Luke McCormick.
As Vale turned up the heat, a great Ben Williamson cross was touched away at full stretch by McCormick and Burge was a yard over with a follow-up.
Substitute James Constable was high and wide from a good position as Oxford looked for the counter before Adams made a double substitution, bringing on Hughes and Louis Dodds for Williamson and Andrew after 71 minutes.
Vale were looking comfortable, but it was the home side who surged ahead after 76 minutes. Constable's low cross was scooped over his own crossbar by Pope and, when the ball came across from the resulting corner, Smalley found space at the far post to drill an angled shot past Neal.
Oxford had the chance to wrap it up five minutes from time when Burge was adjudged to have brought down Davis inside the Vale box.
But Neal sprang to his right to make a brilliant save from Rigg's spot-kick.
Oxford United: McCormick, Batt, Raynes, Wright, Davis, Chapman (Whing, 45), Parker (Constable, 67), Capaldi, Rigg, Potter (Davies, 90), Smalley. Subs not used: Duberry, O'Brien, Craddock, Crocombe.
Port Vale: Neal, Duffy, Purse, McCombe, Jones, Myrie-Williams, Burge (Morsy, 86), Loft, Andrew (Hughes, 71), Williamson (Dodds, 71), Pope. Subs not used: Yates, Vincent, Shuker, Birchall.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne & Wear)
Attendance: 6,322 (865 Vale fans)