THERE has been no shortage of knocks to Oxford United which have meant this season has not gone to plan, but for head coach Karl Robinson one stands out above all others.

The campaign was just 90 minutes old, but the U’s boss admits a sinking feeling came over him.

It was the sight of Simon Eastwood coming off in the warm-up against Fleetwood Town with a badly dislocated little finger.

Recovery from surgery saw him miss 11 games. United lost seven of them and won just once.

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It meant by the time the goalkeeper returned they were bottom and five points from safety.

If the table had started from scratch that day, when Eastwood kept a clean sheet in a priceless 2-0 win against Plymouth Argyle, the U’s would now be sixth.

Such twisting of statistics is fantasy football – and Eastwood’s absence was clearly not the only reason for the poor run – but if Robinson was granted a wish to change history this season, that would be it.

“That would be the one,” he said.

“When I got home my wife said to me ‘what’s up with you’ and I said ‘I think I’ve just lost the best player in the league’.

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“That’s how important he is, look at the influence he has on the team.

“He’s not a minute’s problem to anybody and the fans love him.

“Nelse (Curtis Nelson) and Rob Dickie have unbelievable faith in him, so they grow a few inches.

“As a manager you can feel that, there’s an aura certain people carry and Easty is one of them.

“I remember the feeling that night. I don’t think we managed to overcome that.”

Fortunately, the U’s No 1 has not missed a minute of league football since and has made big saves in their recent excellent run.

Almost a third of their points this season have come in the last seven games, which has seen them climb ten places.

Having spent most of the season in the relegation zone, their position this week in 12th has taken some adjustment.

Robinson said: “I was sat on Sunday with Sky Sports News on and the table came up.

“We weren’t on it and then I realised it was the bottom half. It was the biggest shock I’ve had all season.

“If we can manage to stay up with the different things that have gone on internally this year, it’s been unbelievable.

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“I think the players deserve tremendous credit. The ones that have been fit through the season and really coped with all the criticism and the things that have gone on have been absolute stalwarts.

“I’m immensely proud to be the manager of these players, because they’re great people and they do deserve more.”

The strong run over the last five weeks means a win tomorrow at Walsall would probably be enough to stay up, with five games remaining.

But with the Saddlers still in the mire, it will be a challenge.

Robinson said: “We understand by what’s been said there’s going to be a very angry team that want to win.

“When the game kicks off we’ve got to be calm in our approach to it, but equally have a lot of aggression.”