THE circumstances on Saturday meant Simon Eastwood was not in a position to celebrate, but Oxford United’s No 1 reached a personal milestone against Sunderland.

It was his 200th appearance for the club – some going considering the U’s have played 232 games since he joined in 2016.

In doing so he moved joint 40th on United’s all-time highest appearances list, only the fourth goalkeeper to reach a double century, after Roy Burton, Ryan Clarke and Phil Whitehead.

It is vindication of his decision to drop down from the Championship with Blackburn Rovers, where he had grown frustrated by a lack of game time.

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Having played just 80 games in the Football League across seven seasons, coming to United was all about regular football.

“I was at Blackburn on the bench at 26, 27 and I always backed myself to come and play somewhere,” he said.

“It’s my fifth season now and I’ve learned so much from the experiences I’ve had.

“I think in the seasons we’ve had I must have averaged 50 games to get to 200, so if someone had told me when I joined I go out to do that I’d have been delighted, so it’s quite a proud moment.”

Eastwood was the first signing Michael Appleton made after winning promotion.

It was an underwhelming arrival for some, but the head coach knew what he was getting, having helped resurrect a stalling career in 2012 when signing him for Portsmouth.

Despite the success in the promotion season, United never fully settled on a goalkeeper, but it did not take long for Eastwood to show his worth.

He went on to play every single minute of the 2016/17 campaign – and was unhappy to see his run of 75 successive appearances end when Pep Clotet gave Scott Shearer a run-out in the Checkatrade Trophy against Brighton & Hove Albion Under 21s.

Oxford Mail:

  • Arguably the pick of Simon Eastwood’s 200 appearances was the FA Cup fourth round tie with Newcastle United in 2017, where a fine display was capped off by a penalty save to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic  Picture: David Fleming

The Scot also faced Charlton Athletic in the same competition three months later, but otherwise Eastwood was ever-present.

His run of 93 consecutive league starts came to an end in August 2018, when he suffered a freak finger injury in the warm-up against Fleetwood Town.

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A two-month lay-off followed, which coincided with United’s worst run of form since he joined.

Other than being sidelined for six weeks last winter with a knee problem, the only other league game he has missed was against Shrewsbury Town in April 2019, due to suspension.

An improving Jack Stevens is putting Eastwood under more pressure for his place than he has known at United, but the experienced stopper feels well equipped to stick around and climb United’s all-time list.

“There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I love it here,” he said.

“I’m 31 now, but I like to think it’s a good age for a goalkeeper.”

In an ideal world, he would have loved to mark Saturday with a 67th clean sheet for United.

Oxford Mail:

  • Simon Eastwood during Saturday's game against Sunderland  Picture: David Fleming

But a poor display from the side in a 2-0 defeat means Eastwood could not look back on the afternoon with fondness.

It led to the squad being brought in for an extra session on Sunday to go through the game.

When it came to boss Karl Robinson asking for input from his players, Eastwood is likely to have been one of the first to step forward.

Having been a reserved presence when he signed, the 31-year-old has found increasing confidence during his time at United to speak up.

“Over 200 games I’ve seen it all pretty much,” he said.

“We’ve been here before, definitely.

“I think everyone has their own opinion.

“At the end of the day it’s the gaffer’s that means the most, but he wants everyone to have their input.

“We know how it feels if something’s not right. He’s very good at asking the lads what they think.

“It’s up to the older players sometimes to take charge in the meetings if something needs to be said.

“The gaffer does a lot of the talking in the meetings, as managers do, but I’ll have a bit of input here and there from what I can see at the back.

“You can see a lot as a goalkeeper and you can have your opinions.”