By Tony Leighton
Oxford United goalkeeper Ryan Clarke is aiming to celebrate his Sky Bet League 2 Player of the Month award with yet another clean sheet when the U's visit the keeper's first club Bristol Rovers on Saturday.
Clarke collected his award after shut-outs in all four of Oxford's January League games. It was the second time this term that he had kept four successive clean sheets and he now has 12 to his name from 29 outings.
The 31-year-old stopper is a key man in the tightest defence in division, the U's having conceded just 23 goals in those 29 League games.
Clarke told football-league.co.uk: "Keeping four clean sheets on the bounce is a great achievement, but it's not just down to me.
"The boys in front of me have been brilliant, and if they can maintain their form that will stand us in good stead for the last third of the season."
As they approach the run-in to the end of the campaign Oxford are lying third in the table, four points off top spot and focused on automatic promotion after finishing two places below the Play-Offs in each of the last two seasons.
They must head towards the run-in without Chris Wilder, the manager who guided the club out of the Conference in 2010 and to the progress made since.
Wilder has left to join Northampton Town but Clarke, who himself has played an important role in the club's rise since being signed by Wilder in the 2009 close season, reckons the manager's departure will not halt the U's promotion drive.
Under caretaker boss Micky Lewis, formerly Wilder's assistant, a home win and two away draws have stretched the team's unbeaten League run to six matches.
"We are doing really well since the turnaround in management staff," said Clarke. "Chris Wilder was good for me, he signed me when the club were non-league and the faith he showed in me was a big help in my development as a player.
"He also did a fantastic job for the club, right up to this season when he made some very good signings to improve the team.
"But the players have got the utmost respect for Micky Lewis and the rest of the management staff, and what we're now doing we're doing for them."
What Clarke and his team mates will be doing at Bristol Rovers on Saturday is aiming to maintain their tremendous away record.
Oxford are the only club in England's top five divisions who have yet to taste defeat on their travels, and despite Bristol-born Clarke's affection for his first club he will be looking to pile more misery on the relegation threatened Pirates.
Rovers are just one point above the drop zone and Clarke said: "I'm sorry to see my old team down there and I sincerely hope they get out of trouble.
"I grew up supporting the club and I had six happy years there at the start of my career. But things move on and my focus now is purely on Oxford.
"We want to keep our superb away record going so we'll be going all out for three points on Saturday, and another clean sheet would be a nice bonus.
"Keeping up our away form could be vital in these last few months of the season. In the last couple of years inconsistency - at home as well as away - has meant we've dropped out of contention for a place in the Play-Offs.
"But this season we've got a few more experienced heads in the team and I don't think that we'll slip up again. Promotion is the aim - hopefully automatic."
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