CHRIS Wilder hailed a magnificent performance from his Oxford United players as they came from behind to clinch a victory at Bradford City.
But the ecstasy of the 2-1 win, sealed by a stoppage time penalty from Peter Leven, was tempered by the news Ryan Clarke could miss the rest of the season.
The goalkeeper needs operations on both shoulders, which are expected to keep him out for a minimum of ten weeks.
Clarke’s replacement, Wayne Brown, was culpable for Bradford’s early goal, following a disastrous mix-up with Michael Duberry.
But Sean Rigg’s spectacular equaliser and Leven’s spot-kick sunk the Bantams, who had beaten Premiership side Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg four days earlier.
Wilder felt the effects of the midweek game may have helped the U’s, but had nothing but praise for his side, who lined up in an unfamiliar 3-4-3 formation.
The United manager said: “Maybe we took advantage of a few tired legs in the second half, but I don’t want to take anything away from my players.
“I thought we were brave with the formation. It was a big decision by the coaching staff, but the players are the ones who have to go out and take it on and they did so magnificently.”
It was United’s fourth league success in a row, the club’s best run for more than three years.
It lifted them up to 12th place, just two points below the play-off places with a game in hand on most of the sides above them.
“I’ve said all along when we got our best players out on the pitch and into a bit of consistency, then we’d win games,” Wilder said.
However, the news on Clarke took a slight edge off the victory.
Scans have shown there is a problem, but the full extent will not be know until the surgery.
Wilder said: “Obviously you can’t do it on them at the same time so he needs one done and then the other one.
“There’s significant damage, but we’ll only find out how much once the (surgeon) goes right in.
“I should imagine that it will take ten weeks, if we can get him back (this season) brilliant, but if not we’ll have to see where we are.”