Chris Wilder has backed Ryan Clarke to come back stronger after dropping his first-choice goalkeeper for the last two games.

The 30-year-old has been virtually an ever- present since joining Oxford United in 2009, becoming one of their most important figures.

But the goalkeeper was relegated to the substitutes’ bench last weekend, with manager Wilder feeling his form had slipped since the start of the season.

Wayne Brown played in goal for the 3-1 defeat at Rotherham and kept his place against AFC Wimbledon.

But a groin injury to the veteran stopper allowed Clarke to come off the bench and he went on to make an outstanding save to deny Will Antwi late on.

The warm reception from the home fans will have done wonders for his confidence, while the save secured a 3-2 win for United which ended a six-game losing run.

Wilder admitted he thought Antwi had scored, before reiterating Clarke’s pivotal role in the side.

He said: “Without being clever, Ryan was floundering at Northwich Victoria and he’s come here and been brilliant.

“He’s been different class, but sometimes you just feel that maybe he needs a bit of a breather because there were goals going in left, right and centre.”

He added: “I didn’t think Ryan had had a decent start to the season, but he took it on the chin and got on with it – he knows he’s my No 1.

“To be fair, it wasn’t just him, and if we had more bodies available, maybe I would have made more changes than I have been able to.

“But Ryan just possibly needed a break, it was a shorter break than he might have expected, but he came on and helped us get a result.”

The victory helped relieve some of the pressure on the squad after a painful month.

Clearly, Wilder would have preferred to avoid the woeful sequence, but the U’s boss felt there was something to be gained which will have a lasting impact.

He added: “I said at half- time this is a big part of the players’ careers because not a lot of those young guys have experienced runs like this.

“People like Alfie (Potter), (Simon) Heslop, (Deane) Smalley and (Tom) Craddock have been in pretty much winning teams here.

“I told them I believed we would go on and win the game, but it was also important for their careers.

“I thought they showed tremendous spirit.”