CONOR McAleny was thrilled to become Oxford United’s match-winner as his first start was lit up by a superb strike which bagged a hard-fought victory at Charlton Athletic.

The 1-0 win against ten men lifted the U’s to tenth in the Sky Bet League One table and was an impressive response to their Emirates FA Cup disappointment against Middlesbrough on Saturday.

McAleny was one of three players brought in to freshen up the side and he made the most of the chance.

With United playing catch-up if they are to put together a run to gatecrash the play-off race, recovering from the cup exit was absolutely vital.

McAleny said: “It’s massive. We went close against Middlesbrough who are a top side, but we needed to bounce back and get three points.

“It’s always nice to score and when it gets you three points, it’s even better.

“I hadn’t tested the keeper so I thought I’d drive at the defence. They backed off and I just let one rip.

“I thought the keeper had it covered, but it just hit the inside of the post, so I was very happy.

“When I’m in the team I just want to work hard and do my best for them. That’s all I can do.”

The Addicks, who hit the woodwork twice, had their push for an equaliser dented by Chris Solly’s 70th-minute red card for a bad foul on John Lundstram.

But United’s victory was not secure until the final seconds, when Ryan Ledson made a terrific goalline clearance to deny Patrick Bauer a 96th-minute equaliser.

Full back Phil Edwards said: “It was a great header by Lego at the end. That’s what we need, people to put their bodies on the line to keep a clean sheet.”

“A clean sheet was imperative, we knew we’d have to do that to win the game.”

Head coach Michael Appleton acknowledged United were not at their fluent best, but hailed his side’s mental strength for finding a way to claim the victory.

He said: “It wasn’t the best of nights in terms of the performance.

“I think the energy we put into Saturday told because of the amount of times we made poor decisions. But the reality is they showed a huge sense of belief in each other and their character was excellent.

“It was one of those games where if you really want to start putting pressure on people you have to win it.”