Simon Eastwood

Oxford United shot-stopper Simon Eastwood bids for Toon hat-trick

IT’S normally strikers who bag hat-tricks, but Oxford United keeper Simon Eastwood wants one of his own on Tuesday night – a third FA Cup clean sheet against Newcastle.

The 30-year-old saved an Aleksandar Mitrovic penalty as
the U’s stormed to a 3-0 fourth round success against the then-Championship
Magpies three years ago. He followed it up with another shutout as Karl
Robinson’s men battled their way to a goalless draw at St James’ Park last Saturday.

It’s put him in a positive frame of mind as Oxford
prepare to meet the Toon Army in front of the television cameras in midweek for
the right to visit West Brom in the fifth round.

“Tuesday will be a good game for the fans and it is
going to be on the BBC so it is a good platform to go and show what we are all
about,” said Eastwood.

“When you play a Premier League club, it is always
going to be a big one. We have given them a really good game at their place and
we maybe should have won the game.

“We had a couple of good chances at the end to win it
and we were a little disappointed we didn’t. Hopefully, we can take the chance
to get to the next round from the replay.

“The cup is kind of a free hit for us and nobody is
expecting anything. We are playing a Premier League club so we can play with
the same confidence as last week and see what happens.”

Eastwood still looks
back fondly at that memorable 3-0 win against a Magpies side then led by Rafa
Benitez in 2017.

“It was three years ago in my first season at Oxford, so the penalty save was a big moment for me,” the former Blackburn and Portsmouth man said.

Simon Eastwood
Hero: Simon Eastwood saves Aleksandr Mitrovic’s penalty in 2017. Pinnacle

“To keep a clean sheet
was a big achievement. To do that again against a Premier League side shows
your quality. We have to try and repeat that performance.”

With a League One promotion challenge their primary
concern, Oxford – who thrashed top-flight West Ham 4-0 at the Kassam Stadium on
their way to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals earlier this term – could be
forgiven for keeping most of their focus on non-cup matters

A stuttering start to 2020 has seen Robinson’s troops
slip down the table and they were four points adrift of the top six ahead of
the weekend’s fixtures.

They also lost midfielder Shandon Baptiste, 21, and
winger Tariqe Fosu, 24, to Championship Brentford in a £3m double deal on
transfer deadline day.

Yet Eastwood insists doing well in the cup can only aid
Oxford’s league form.

“A few weeks ago we
were second in the league and now we are in a position where we have missed a
game for the cup,” he said.

“It is still important to do well in the cup and we
always seem to have good runs in both cups, so we want to use it as a positive.

“To beat a Premier League club at home would be great, and winning games in any competition is only going to give us more confidence. We want to get into the Championship, and that has to be our main priority for the remainder of the season.”

HARRY GRAY

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