RYAN Clarke was the hero last night as Oxford United won a penalty shootout to seal their best-ever campaign in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
The 30-year-old enhanced his reputation as a penalty-saving expert by keeping out two of Plymouth Argyle’s spot-kicks.
It sealed a 3-1 victory in the shootout for the U’s, after the game had finished 1-1 at Home Park.
The win put United into the area semi-finals for the first time, just two rounds from the Wembley final. The draw is on Saturday morning.
Clarke, who had shone in a shootout win against Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup earlier this season, was modest about his role.
He said: “Luckily I guessed right on every one. The first one he put away really well and the other two nearly took my shoulders out of my sockets.
“I had to do my bit and to be fair to our lads, they were excellent penalties again, like they were when we played Bournemouth.
“It was a long way to come and a good way to end the night.”
United’s assistant manager Mickey Lewis was delighted with the win and hailed Clarke’s uncanny ability on saving spot-kicks.
He said: “Penalties are always a bit of a lottery, but we’ve got Clarkey – he’s got an amazing record and long may it continue.
“We knew if the others showed the composure they did against Bourne-mouth, which they did, we’d have a chance.”
United's line-up included a first senior start for Tyrone Marsh.
The 18-year-old striker lasted almost an hour before being replaced by James Constable, who scored the visitors’ goal in the second half.
Lewis said: “Tyrone worked hard. He didn’t get a lot of the ball, but he’s got ability.
“He’s done really well in training recently and we just felt it was a good opportunity for him to get some minutes on the pitch.”
The club have yet to find out the severity of injuries to Andy Whing and Jon-Paul Pittman.
Both have had scans on injuries picked up on Saturday, but they will have to wait until specialists see the results later this week before knowing how long their lay-offs will be.