Appleton demands best from players to the end

Josh Ruffels shoots past Deniz Mehmet to give United the lead Picture: Steve Daniels

There were mixed thoughts from Oxford United boss Michael Appleton after his side pushed Port Vale deeper into relegation problems on Easter Monday.

Midfielder Josh Ruffels scored his first league goal of the season and Chris Maguire netted his 12th in a 2-0 win at the Kassam.

The U’s have come to terms with missing out on a play-off place this year but boss Appleton is still demanding the very best from his players right up to the last minute of a long season.

Speaking after picking up three points on Monday, which leaves Vale a point from safety, Appleton said: “It was a mixed performance.

“Some of our stuff in possession at times was decent and we created enough chances to win two or three games, but I wasn’t pleased with the way we went about things out of possession of the ball.

“I felt we relied too much on our back five and they had to work a lot harder than I wanted and what I expected.

“The reality is we have won the game and kept a clean sheet but I am always looking ahead and thinking to the next one. And the next one [at Millwall] is a pretty big one for me because we go to a side who are fighting to try and get in that top six.

“We want to go there if we possibly can and try and prevent that for at least a week.”

Pride, contracts and futures can still be won and lost in the remaining two matches.

The U’s boss of nearly three years added: “I know it’s difficult. We have had a very, very good season, played a hell of a lot of games, a lot of highs and lows, but you never know when your last game is. You never know who is watching. You’re always playing for something whether it’s pride, whatever it may be.

“There are players in that dressing room playing for contracts as well.”

United travel to Millwall on Saturday for their last away game of the season.

Appleton said: “I made it clear we can’t afford to go to Millwall and be as poor as we were out of possession.

“I want to finish the season on a high. I don’t want to be average, I don’t want to be middle of the road.

“It hurts when you have to accept what we had to accept last week – after the defeat [to Fleetwood] we couldn’t make the play-offs.

“I just want the players to play to a standard we have come to expect over the time since they have been here.”

The U’s also lost 1-0 at play-off chasing Bradford City on Good Friday.

Nicky Law scored the decisive and priceless goal on the hour mark with a simple finish from six yards in front of nearly 20,000 spectators.

United travel to Millwall on Saturday before they host Shrewsbury on April 30 for the 46th – and last – game of the SkyBet League One campaign.

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