A LATE header from Deane Smalley saw Oxford United get their pre-season off to a winning start on a sweltering afternoon.

The striker headed in a 90th-minute corner to finally see off a hard-working Ardley United.

After a goalless first half, the visitors went ahead shortly after the restart through a neat finish from Alfie Potter after good work from Dave Kitson.

United were in control, only to be pegged back when Ardley were given a soft penalty, which Ryan Brooks dispatched.

But Smalley's well-taken goal edged Chris Wilder's men ahead just before the final whistle. The visitors opted to field two completely different sides, making 11 changes at the break.

  • Audio: Chris Wilder's reaction

The first half team featured triallist Matt Heath at centre half, while new signings David Hunt and Jon Meades made their debuts. Good work from Sean Rigg on the left flank carved out the opening chance, on four minutes, but Tyrone Marsh could not keep his volley down.

Ardley play five divisions below their opponents, but worked hard to give the U's a test. Playing up the hill, they came closest to scoring in a goalless first half.

A weak backpass from David Lynn on 12 minutes forced Ryan Clarke to smother an opening for John Gardner. The rebound fell kindly for Troy Bryan, who crashed a powerful volley which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and bounced clear.

The U's went on to control much of the game up to the break, but were only able to create a handful of half chances.

Meades was the only one to test Ardley goalkeeper Jack Harding, who made a smart block from the midfielder's volley after Marsh cushioned Rigg's corner in the 28th minute. Marsh did well to to create an opportunity for himself late in the half, spinning his marker before failing to catch hold of a shot which Harding easily caught.

Kitson was among the revamped side to take the field after the restart and it took him less than three minutes to make an impact. The striker caught Harding out, robbing the keeper and squaring for Potter, who beat one man before rolling a shot into the net. It helped set the tone for a bright spell from the visitors.

Callum O'Dowda showed fantastic close control to dance clear of several challenges and into the box, but his cross was just ahead of Smalley. Kitson quickly laid on another opening for Smalley, who rose to nod goalwards, where Harding held on.

It looked only a matter of time before the visitors' lead increased, but 16 minutes from time Ardley were given a way back into the game. The referee adjudged a challenge in the area from triallist Kenzer Lee to be a foul, awarding the hosts a soft penalty.

Brooks stepped up and confidently sent Max Crocombe, who had been a virtual spectator since coming on, the wrong way and found the corner of the net. United set about searching for a second goal and began to find spaces to attack against a tiring Ardley defence.

Asa Hall fizzed a shot just off target, while Potter was denied a second goal when Harding made a smart block at his near post.

The Ardley goalkeeper made an even better save to keep out a low shot from Smalley late on. But from the resulting corner the striker got his goal, planting a header past Harding for a late winner. United's next game is at Alloa Athletic on Wednesday night.

Oxford 1st half: Clarke, Hunt, Heath, Wright, Lynn, Davies, Whing, Meades, Marsh, Constable, Rigg. Oxford 2nd half: Crocombe, Bevans, Raynes, Lee, Newey, Potter, Hall, Rose, O'Dowda, Kitson, Smalley.

Ardley: Harding, D Beckett, Kinch (A Beckett ht), Jackson, Thomas (Smith 45), McIntosh (Stanbridge 26), Gardner, Bridges (Castello ht), Bryan, Convey (Starratt 54), Eyre (Brooks ht).

Referee: John Farries.

Attendance: 670.