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League One

It's the battle of the underdogs, says Eastwood

Read an exclusive interview with the Oxford man ahead of Monday's Play-Off Final

13 July 2020

Oxford United goalkeeper Simon Eastwood believes both his side and their Play-Off Final opponents, Wycombe Wanderers, "will never get a better chance at promotion" to the Sky Bet Championship than when they meet at Wembley Stadium on Monday evening.

Eastwood was the hero for the U's in their Semi-Final second leg, saving a penalty in the shootout against his former side Portsmouth to help seal a spot in the Final.

There, they'll face a Wycombe side who were tipped for relegation before the start of the current campaign, and the goalkeeper believes Monday's battle of the underdogs is an occasion and an opportunity that will not be taken for granted by either team.

“It feels surreal," he said. "You can have a little bit of celebration after the Semi-Final, you get texts and phone calls congratulating you, but you know we still have a game to go and we’re 90 minutes away from the Championship. The pressure is on for both teams.

“If someone had said at the start of the season that it would be Oxford against Wycombe in the League One Play-Off Final, I don’t think you’d have had too many takers! Last season, we were poor and had a really good run at the end of the season to pull away from the relegation zone, and that probably masked the season that we’d had.

"We finished mid-table, so to get to where we are today is massive for the club. We’re not going to get a better chance at being promoted and I’m sure both teams are thinking that. It’s a big chance to be in the Championship, and two underdogs going at it.

“Every season, League One seems to get stronger, with big teams dropping down. You’ve got Ipswich, Portsmouth and Sunderland in there now and a couple more coming down. No-one expected Luton to get promoted last season and I don’t think anyone expected Oxford or Wycombe to get promoted this season, so it will be a great achievement for whoever goes up."

Having lost at Wembley with Oxford in the 2017 EFL Trophy Final, and as his appearance total for the club nears the 200 mark, Eastwood knows as well as anyone what victory would mean to the club and the city.

Goalkeepers are often the heroes in games like these, and while the stopper is expecting a tight game, he's prepared for penalties again, should it go that far.

“It’s nice [to have played my part]," he added. "I’ve never been involved in the Play-Offs or a game of this magnitude so you get through the two legs but always have in the back of your mind that there’s still one game left and it’s probably the biggest one you’re going to play in. If you were to tell me the same again will happen on Monday night, I’d snap your hand off!

“I think it will be a tight game, and everyone knows it could go either way. I’m quite a confident person, I’m 31 now and I’ve played a lot of games in my career, so I’ll try to treat it the same as any other. Playing at Wembley, you know it’s important, and the lads are really happy to have made it this far. We’ve done well, and hopefully we can finish the job. We’ve come so far and worked so hard, so to win would be the icing on the cake.

“I’ve been to Wembley with Oxford before, in the EFL Trophy Final. We ended up losing that day, but it was pretty much a sell-out, so this will be different in terms of playing in an empty Wembley. It’s a surreal feeling, but I’m sure in years to come we’ll just look back at whether or not we got promoted."

While Oxford haven't played second-tier football since 1999, Eastwood was plying his trade in the Championship as recently as 2015/16. 

Monday's Final is an important one on a personal note for the goalkeeper, who will be playing not only for himself, but the fans who have been right behind him since his move four years ago.

"It's where I want to get to," he said. "My goal was always to get back into the Championship with Oxford and this is our chance. We've got a chance to finish the job and it would be great to get back there.

"You see all the fans watching from home. It was on the big screen behind the goal during the second leg of the Semi-Final, and I was almost surprised at how many people were watching around Oxford and rooting for us.

"We know how important this game is, so we'll give it our best shot. We'll give 100 per cent, but as long as we get promoted, that's all that matters."

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