DERICK Osei came off the bench to continue his run of scoring in the Papa John’s Trophy to send Oxford United through as group winners.

A humdrum affair at the Bescot Stadium was lit up three minutes from time by the French striker’s classy finish.

It ensured he had scored in all three group matches – and having not been registered for the U’s league matches, this competition is his only chance of playing for the side before the new year.

The shot beat Saddlers goalkeeper Jack Rose, who had been the busier of the two goalkeepers and made one excellent save to thwart Sam Winnall before the break.

Caolan Lavery hit the crossbar for the home side, but United held firm to keep their first clean sheet in 20 matches.

With a host of fringe players getting useful minutes under their belts, it was a decent night for the visitors despite the clash not being a classic.

Both sides made seven changes from their Emirates FA Cup defeats at the weekend.

United handed new signing Jordan Obita a debut, Winnall came in for his first start, while the bench included three youngsters making the squad for the first time in Eddie Brearey, Josh Anifowose and Leon Chambers-Parillon.

The visitors almost got off to a flying start, with Walsall’s first touch conceding a corner.

That was cleared out to Liam Kelly, whose thumping low shot was well saved by Saddlers goalkeeper Jack Rose.

Joel Cooper was another among the visiting line-up looking to seize a rare start. The winger was typically industrious and in the tenth minute set up a shooting chance for Winnall which forced Rose into another smart save.

Jake Scrimshaw, scorer of three hat-tricks against the U’s at youth level two seasons ago, was a pest for the home side and fired one half-chance wide.

It was a rare sight of Jack Stevens’ goal before the break, as young pair Nico Jones and Michael Elechi helped limit Walsall’s chances.

The hosts’ big opportunity of the half came from a corner on 32 minutes, when Caolan Lavery’s header came back off the crossbar.

United broke and Cooper cut in off the right flank to force Rose into action.

The Walsall goalkeeper was busy again before half-time, making an outstanding save to deny Winnall a first U’s goal after he made a good connection on Sam Long’s low cross.

It was a promising end to the half, but the game struggled to catch light after the break.

Obita made way as planned, to be replaced by Dan Agyei. The forward had been very publicly dropped by U’s boss Karl Robinson at the weekend and looked determined to make a point as he made some early purposeful darts forward.

It did not yield any chances, though, which went for the other players on the pitch as well.

Rose made a routine save from Hall’s 20-yard effort, while Lavery blazed one opening wide as Jack Stevens continued to wait for his first save of the night.

Leon Chambers-Parillon came on for his debut in the latter stages – and the midfielder was involved in the winning goal.

His pass forward found fellow substitute Osei, who cut on to his right foot and buried a terrific finish into the far corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.

Walsall (4-4-2): Rose, White, Sadler, Scarr, Cockerill-Mollett, Nolan (Guthrie 69), Sinclair (Holden 69), Bates, Osadebe (McDonald 82), Lavery, Scrimshaw.

Unused subs: Jules, McDonald, Leak, Perry, George.

Booked: Cockerill-Mollett, Osadebe.

Oxford Utd (4-2-3-1): Stevens, Long, Mousinho, Jones, Elechi, Kelly, Henry, Cooper (Chambers-Parillon 82), Hall, Obita (Agyei HT), Winnall (Osei 69).

Unused subs: Brearey, Asonganyi, Anifowose.

Booked: Cooper.

Referee: Carl Brook (Sussex).