KARL Robinson admits dropping Simon Eastwood for Jack Stevens was the hardest call he has made in management.

The Oxford United boss replaced his experienced No 1 with a goalkeeper boasting just ten first-team appearances at the start of December, but the U’s have since gone seven games unbeaten to climb the Sky Bet League One table.

It has landed Stevens a nomination for the division’s player of the month award, while Robinson is short-listed for the managers' prize.

United had failed to keep a clean sheet all season before the 23-year-old came in against Ipswich Town on December 1, but they have since achieved four shut-outs.

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While Robinson has been impressed with Stevens’ displays in the face of off-pitch adversity, he revealed demoting Eastwood was incredibly tough.

The U’s head coach said: “It’s probably my most difficult managerial decision in 12 years.

“That’s because of how much I respect Simon Eastwood and how good a goalkeeper he is.

“Jack’s work ethic was quite incredible throughout the time he was waiting for his opportunity.

“He’s had a difficult time off the field and he’s having to make sure he supports a lot of things around that.

“He’s an incredible young man and for him to go through what he has in recent weeks and perform the way he has on the field is testament to his mentality.

“Easty’s support of Jack has been magnificent and (goalkeeping coach) Wayne Browne’s had a key role in his development.

“They can both be immensely proud.”

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The nominations for the December prize come after United gained 12 points from six games, putting them third in the division’s form table for the month.

Robinson’s side had struggled to keep goals out before Stevens came in against Ipswich Town on December 1, but the 0-0 draw was followed by three more clean sheets in his next five matches.

The academy graduate is not afraid to come out of his area to snuff out attacks and Robinson applauded his bravery.

“I love goalkeepers who start high, it’s always been a big thing for me,” he said.

“If we’re going to be aggressive in our high lines the goalkeeper’s got to be aggressive and that’s something he’s really done well.”

Stevens is up against Peterborough United striker Jonson Clarke-Harris, Crewe Alexandra’s Owen Dale and Lincoln City midfielder Brennan Johnson for the players’ prize.

Robinson’s fellow nominees are Crewe’s David Artell, Shrewsbury Town boss Steve Cotterill and Blackpool manager Neil Critchley.