DEANE Smalley's early strike was enough to give Oxford United victory against struggling Torquay United.

The striker had other chances to make the game safe, but his eighth goal of the campaign claimed only a fifth home win of the league season.

A second goal would have killed off a limited Gulls side and United's lack of a killer blow gave them hope late on.

They came close to an equaliser in stoppage time when Kevin Nicholson's free-kick struck the crossbar. It bounced back into play, where Jake Wright bravely cleared off the line.

The U's captain flung himself into the net, injuring himself in the process and there were ten minutes of stoppage time played after he was stretchered off.

The teamsheet showed three changes to the starting line-up from the midweek defeat to Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup.

Ryan Williams, Nicky Wroe and Danny Rose all returned, as Scott Davies, Michael Raynes and Sean Rigg dropped to the bench.

It had taken almost 80 minutes to muster a shot on target on Tuesday, but they made a bright start.

Within the opening minute a long throw from David Hunt was not cleared and Torquay scrambled to make blocks from James Constable, Danny Rose and Johnny Mullins.

It did not take long for the opening goal to arrive.

On six minutes, Ryan Williams picked up the ball through the middle and slipped in Smalley, who tucked a left-footed finish just inside the post.

It was the striker's first goal in ten appearances and he was quickly mobbed by teammates.

United looked lively, moving the ball around well in difficult conditions.

A strong wind blew down the ground and at one stage Kevin Nicholson was delayed from taking a free-kick when the ball would not sit still.

Torquay started the day in the bottom two and offered little going forward before the break.

Their one chance came on 22 minutes, when Nicholson's free-kick was spilled by Ryan Clarke, but the goalkeeper made amends by blocking Joss Labadie on the follow-up.

Clear chances were also at a premium at the other end.

Smalley thought he had a second goal on the half hour mark, when Tom Newey's ball into the box was flicked into the striker's path. He rounded Michael Poke, but the goalkeeper somehow recovered to get a hand on the ball as Smalley prepared to stroke it into an empty net.

The interval saw a torrential downpour, which miraculously cleared to reveal blue skies just as the players returned for the second half.

Torquay started well and ten minutes after the restart they carved open a good chance.

Elliott Benyon was picked out by a low cross, but his shot from 12 yards was blocked by a combination of Hunt and Jake Wright.

After recovering from a sloppy start to the half, United's best chances continued to fall to Smalley.

The striker made one chance for himself, surging into the box and from an acute angle his shot beat Poke, but Anthony O'Connor superbly cleared off the line.

Smalley also leapt highest to head a Hunt cross just wide in a good spell midway through the half.

The chances began to dry up as the half wore on, giving the Gulls hope of taking something from the game.

It was not smooth progress from United, but although they did not use the ball well at times, their back four was rarely troubled until the very end of the 90 minutes.

As the game went into stoppage time Nicholson hit the crossbar with a free-kick. The ball looped into the air and back into play, where Jake Wright bravely headed over.

The momentum took him flying into the net and there was immediately concern from his teammates.

The skipper was stretchered off, but was sitting up and applauded the home fans for their ovation.

It meant a lengthy spell of stoppage time, but Torquay could not find a way through.

Oxford Utd: Clarke, Hunt, Mullins, Wright, Newey, Williams, Wroe, Rose, Ruffels (Rigg 72), Constable, Smalley.

Unused subs: Henly, Bevans, Long, Raynes, Davies, Marsh.

Torquay Utd: Poke, O'Connor, Pearce, Downes, Nicholson, Mansell, Lathrope (Bodin 87), Labadie, Hawley (Chapell 72), Stockley, Benyon (Goodwin 81).

Unused subs: Rice, Tonge, Cameron, Cooper.

Referee: Carl Berry (Surrey).