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Superb Roberts seals victory for needy Saddlers.

walsall 2 oxford 1 ROOKIE goalkeeper Liam Roberts produced a superb display as Walsall eased clear of the League One relegation zone with a gritty victory over Oxford.

Roberts made two outstanding saves to deny Wes Thomas and James Henry and a handful of other fine stops to give Walsall and under-fire boss Jon Whitney a vital win.

With fans protesting against the board after the game, Walsall got it right on the pitch as Amadou Bakayoko and Erhun Oztumer struck before Alex Mowatt's free-kick sparked a late Oxford rally.

Walsall made three changes from the side who lost 1-0 at Plymouth Argyle on New Year's Day - one enforced and two at manager Whitney's choice.

In came Roberts for Mark Gillespie in goal, while Kieron Morris was replaced by ex-West Ham midfielder and former Saddlers loanee George Dobson, who joined the club permanently on a two-and-ahalf-year deal last week.

|| Amadou The other change saw Kory Roberts come in at centre-half for James Wilson, whose loan spell was cut short this week by Sheffield United so they could sell him to League Two side Lincoln City.

There was some welcome news on the bench for Walsall with West Bromwich Albion loan striker Tyler Roberts and Flo Cuvelier both fit enough following injuries to be named among the subs.

Oxford came into the game in tenth place on the back of two straight wins but it was Walsall who bossed the opening ten minutes.

Six minutes in, Oztumer won a free-kick down the right and his far-post delivery was kept in and flicked across the face of the six-yard box by Luke Leahy but no Walsall player was there to pounce.

Soon after, a cracking crossfield Kory Roberts ball picked out Oztumer and he advanced to the edge of the area before trying a tame low effort that was easy for Oxford keeper Simon Eastwood.

Oxford's first chance came on 12 minutes as Mowatt's floated free-kick located Jon Obika coming in at the back post and his header bounced into the ground and up, needing a tip over from keeper Roberts.

From there it was all Oxford as Walsall were just overrun and only the brilliance of their young keeper stopped them falling behind.

First, on 25 minutes, U's livewire Jack Payne found James Henry in acres of space just inside the box. He cut inside Leahy and only had Roberts to beat from ten yards but the keeper made a great low save.

Two minutes later, Roberts bettered that with a stunning save, a diving one-handed reflex stop to thwart a bullet near-post Thomas header from Mowatt's cross.

Oxford were well on top at this stage but it was Walsall who went in front out of nowhere on 33 minutes.

Oztumer's clever quick free-kick released Leahy into the box and he drilled in a cross from the by-line that Bakayoko bundled home from just a couple of yards out.

Walsall held that lead until the interval and doubled it three minutes into the second period.

Bakayoko Leahy's pinpoint diagonal ball over the top located Oztumer and he shrugged off Oxford defender John Mousinho before chipping Eastwood from 12 yards. It needed a cracking fingertip save from Eastwood to keep the U's in it as he foiled Joe Edwards' curler from the edge of the box.

Oxford were back in it on 70 minutes as Dobson's poor challenge gave them a free-kick on the edge of the D and Mowatt curled home a fine setpiece.

The U's could have levelled when Henry's through ball sent Obika sprinting clear but he tried to round Roberts and the keeper did superbly to grab the ball off his foot.

He saved his best save for last, a flying fingertip stop to divert a Henry howitzer.

WALSALL (4-1-4-1): L Roberts, Kinsella, K Roberts, Guthrie, Leahy, Chambers, Oztumer (T Roberts 86), Dobson (Cuvelier 77), Flanagan (Morris 46), Edwards, Bakayoko. Subs: Gillespie, Devlin, Kouhyar, Jackson. oxford UNITED (4-4-2): Eastwood, Tiendalli, Mousinho, Martin, Carroll, Henry (van Kessel 79), Mowatt, Ruffels, Payne (Napa 68), Thomas (Mehmeti 75), Obika. Subs: Shearer, Williamson, Dickie, Fernandez. STAR MAN: Liam Roberts.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 14, 2018
Words:691
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