THE biggest positive from Oxford United’s Easter Monday victory for Michael Appleton was the way they came out on top against a direct Port Vale side.
Handling physical outfits who get the ball forward quickly has been United’s Achilles heel for much of the season.
And while the U’s head coach felt goalkeeper Simon Eastwood and his back four were stretched more than he had hoped, a hard-fought clean sheet was very welcome.
Appleton said: “That was the big plus.
“We knew they were going to get the ball forward into the strikers and we’d have to compete for second balls and stop crosses.
“We didn’t do that enough at times, but it was good preparation for (Millwall) next week.
“It was difficult for the players and I understand that, but at least our back five were professional enough to realise they just had to do the basics.
“They gave the lads in front of them a platform.”
After a slow start, United’s best football came in a 20-minute spell before half-time.
With Josh Ruffels having already opened the scoring, the hosts looked set to run Vale ragged.
It never quite materialised and the game was not killed off until Chris Maguire’s 82nd-minute strike.
But Appleton thought if United were still battling to make the Sky Bet League One play-offs it would have been a different story.
He said: “If we were really at it and there was something on it I genuinely believe we would’ve won the game by half-time.”