AN OUTSTANDING goalkeeping display from Liam Roberts and some indifferent defending saw Oxford United lose for the first time in 2018.

The Walsall stopper made a host of fine saves to frustrate the visitors, who were backed by more than 1,100 travelling supporters.

United had the majority of the chances, but trailed at the break when a quickly-taken free-kick caught them snoozing and Amadou Bakayoko tapped in.

Erhun Oztumer tookk advantage of more defensive sloppiness to double the lead early in the second half, but Alex Mowatt reignited United’s challenge 20 minutes from time with a super free-kick.

The visitors pressed for an equaliser, but Liam Roberts continued his superb afternoon, with the pick of his interventions an astonishing finger-tip save to deny James Henry.

Simon Eastwood returned to the starting line-up, but Ryan Ledson – linked with a move to Preston North End – was not in the squad, with United reporting the midfielder had a knee injury.

Both new signings, Cameron Brannagan and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts, made the trip but were not included after only completing one training session with their new teammates.

Oxford Mail:

Isaac Buckley-Ricketts on the pitch before the game

Watching from the stands, the pair will have enjoyed most of what the visitors produced in the first half.

United had an early scare where Oztumer’s deep free kick from the right was kept in by Luke Leahy, but John Mousinho and Aaron Martin did just enough to prevent Jon Guthrie from heading into an empty net.

From then on, the visitors, backed by a sizeable travelling contingent, got a grip on the game for much of the half.

Liam Roberts began a busy afternoon by tipping over Martin’s header from Mowatt’s 12th-minute free-kick.

Walsall’s back four looked vulnerable to the pace and power of Jon Obika and Wes Thomas, but behind them the goalkeeper stood firm.

He made two outstanding saves in the space of two minutes just before the half-hour mark.

Jack Payne laid on the first opening for Henry, who beat his man in the box but the prodded shot was just too close to the Saddlers stopper.

While that was still a fine save, his next contribution was stunning.

United carved open Walsall and from Mowatt’s first-time cross Thomas looked certain to score with a powerful header at the near post, only for Liam Roberts to keep it out with his right wrist.

At that stage a goal looked only a matter of time and so it proved – but Walsall got it.

Canice Carroll was adjudged to have fouled just outside the box and as United dozed, the hosts took advantage 12 minutes before the break.

Oztumer’s quick free-kick caught the visitors napping to find Leahy, whose low cross was bundled in by Bakayoko.

Oxford Mail:

  • Wes Thomas and Dwight Tiendalli disagree after Walsall's opener

The Turkish playmaker had a great chance to double the lead with the next attack when Mousinho was caught out of position, but Oztumer delayed as he tried to get the ball on to his left foot, allowing United’s skipper to recover and win the ball.

The visitors exerted more pressure just before the break and despite the scoreline, will have gone in upbeat about their chances of getting back into the game.

But three minutes after the restart, the scale of their task doubled.

A long ball should have been dealt with by Mousinho, but the diminutive Oztumer somehow won possession and although Eastwood got a hand to his lob, the ball dropped in under the crossbar.

United rode their luck a little, with Martin and Mousinho making vital blocks to keep the game alive.

And it was game on 20 minutes from time, when Mowatt scored a wonderful free-kick from just outside the penalty area.

Roared on by their travelling support, United poured men forward.

Oxford Mail:

Jon Obika has a chance saved by Liam Roberts

Obika had a one-on-one smothered by Liam Roberts, who then made the best save of his excellent afternoon by turning a Henry shot which looked destined for the top corner over the crossbar.

Carroll and Obika had headers just off target as the away fans chanted “we’re going to score in a minute”.

Walsall got increasingly desperate as time wore on, but substitute Agon Mehmeti fired wide in the final seconds as the hosts hung on.

Walsall (4-1-4-1): L Roberts, Kinsella, K Roberts, Guthrie, Leahy, Chambers, Oztumer (T Roberts 85), Dobson, Flanagan (Morris HT), Edwards, Bakayoko.

Unused subs: Gillespie, Devlin, Cuvelier, Jackson, Kouhyar.

Booked: Kinsella.

Oxford Utd (4-4-2): Eastwood, Carroll, Martin, Mousinho,Tiendalli, Henry (Van Kessel 79), Ruffels, Mowatt, Payne (Napa 68), Thomas (Mehmeti 75), Obika.

Unused subs: Shearer, Dickie, Williamson, Xemi.

Booked: Martin, Carroll.

Referee: Brett Huxtable (Devon).

Attendance: 4,569 (1,125 visitors).