JOSH Ruffels and Chris Maguire were on target as Oxford United finished the Easter weekend on a high with victory against relegation-threatened Port Vale.
After a scrappy start where the visitors threatened, Ruffels slammed in on the rebound when Marvin Johnson’s 14th-minute strike was parried.
United went on to play some eye-catching football before the break, but could not build on their lead.
It almost proved costly as Vale got on top in the second half.
But the Valiants’ wretched away record could not be improved as Simon Eastwood made several good saves before substitute Maguire struck the all-important second goal on the counter-attack.
United had chances late on to seal a more comprehensive victory, but it was enough to claim a first win in five games.
Two games in four days was always going to be a tall order for Christian Ribeiro, so Phil Edwards replaced him at right back, while Rob Hall was preferred to Maguire in midfield.
Amid a messy start to the game, referee Trevor Kettle played a key role in the game’s first chance.
The official inadvertently cut out John Lundstram’s pass and then as Vale broke he almost obstructed Daniel Pugh, who blasted a low shot wide from 20 yards.
The Valiants’ only league win this season came in October, but they looked the better side early on.
Eastwood twice saved from the experienced Ryan Taylor in the space of 30 seconds, getting a palm to his shot from out wide, before punching clear when the ex-Newcastle and Wigan player tried to score direct from the resulting corner.
Nathan Smith also had a goal correctly disallowed for a foul on Eastwood, but out of the blue United went ahead in the 14th minute.
Hall found Johnson, whose low shot was parried by Mehmet for Ruffels to slam in from eight yards.
While Vale were awkward customers, gradually United tightened their grip on the game.
When the hosts got the ball down they looked dangerous and almost toyed with Michael Brown’s side at times.
Mehmet made amends for his mistake on the goal just before the half-hour mark, diving to his right to keep out Johnson’s fizzing strike from 25 yards.
The makeshift striker, making his 50th appearance for the U’s, was quickly gifted another opening when Taylor’s header back to Mehmet fell short.
Johnson’s shot was parried by the goalkeeper and Scott Tanser just reached the rebound ahead of Hall, who would have had a tap-in.
Ruffels, impressive in the Good Friday defeat at Bradford City, again stood out and the midfielder unlocked the Vale defence ten minutes before the break.
Surging through the middle, he swapped passes with Conor McAleny before flicking a pass for Joe Rothwell to have a shot blocked.
The contest went flat after the break, until Vale built up a head of steam around the hour mark.
United were pinned back by four successive corners, but the pressure evaporated with substitute Daniel Turner’s shot over the crossbar.
The hosts hit back when two substitutes combined.
Kane Hemmings chested a high ball down for Maguire, who played the striker in, but after doing all the hard work his shot was dragged wide from the edge of the box.
A minute later Vale’s small contingent of travelling fans thought their side had equalised.
Remi Streete’s header hit Eastwood’s left-hand post and Turner nodded in the rebound, only to look up and see the offside flag raised.
There was no question Vale were on top, though, as they pushed for a precious equaliser.
But eight minutes from time United landed a sucker punch.
Johnson cleared and Maguire was too quick for Smith on the halfway line. With Hemmings keeping defenders occupied in the middle, the Scot advanced all the way before lifting the ball over Mehmet and into the net.
Hemmings then had a goal ruled out for offside when Mehmet spilled another shot, again from Johnson.
The substitutes combined again in stoppage-time as Hemmings found Maguire, who was inches away from his second goal with a shot on the turn.
Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Eastwood, Edwards, Nelson, Raglan, Skarz, Hall (Hemmings 64), Lundstram, Ruffels, Rothwell (Maguire 64), McAleny, Johnson.
Unused subs: Stevens, Ribeiro, Long, Carroll, Dunkley.
Port Vale (4-4-2): Mehmet, Taylor, Streete, Smith, Tanser (de Freitas 70), Eagles, Reeves (Kelly 57), Pugh, Foley, Cicilia, Hooper (Turner HT).
Unused subs: Fasan, Kiko, Bikey, Gibbons.
Referee: Trevor Kettle (Leicestershire).
Attendance: 7,646 (351 visitors).