If anybody deserved to be on a winning side following a typically feisty Yorkshire derby at Elland Road, it was Keiren Westwood.
Sheffield Wednesday were indebted to the experienced goalkeeper, who produced a string of vital saves either side of half-time to ensure Stuart Gray’s troops left West Yorkshire with a point.
Since arriving on a free transfer from Sunderland over the summer, Westwood has been a model of consistency. His handling, positioning and shot-stopping was immaculate. Leeds striker Mirco Antenucci will still be wondering how Westwood prevented him from getting on the scoresheet.
During the lunch-time Championship tussle, former Wednesday legend Chris Waddle, while working for BBC Radio, stated: “Keiren Westwood has got to be worth 15 to 20 points for Wednesday this season.” It is hard to disagree with Waddle.
Think of the opening-day triumph at Brighton where Westwood made an important stop to deny Chris O’Grady as the Owls successfully held on for maximum points.
Then there was the goalless home draw with Derby where the Republic of Ireland international had to be alert to deny substitute Johnny Russell on a couple of occasions in the second half.
It was the 29-year-old who came to the rescue again last month when the Owls beat Reading, foiling Glenn Murray from the penalty spot.
Wednesday forward Chris Maguire said: “Keiren [Westwood] kept us in the game in the first half and quite rightly got the man- of-the-match award. He had a great game.
“It’s not just this game Keiren has kept us in it. He’s kept us in five or six matches over the course of the season with valuable saves at the right time. He has been a great addition to the team.
“Keiren is up there with the best goalkeepers I’ve worked with. Chris (Kirkland) is a good goalkeeper too so they are fighting hard for a place. It’s a hard one for the manager but Keiren has done well.”
In-form shot-stopper Westwood has played an instrumental role in the Owls recording seven clean sheets this campaign.
Head coach Gray said: “There can’t be many better goalkeepers in the league than Keiren.
“Keiren just showed his presence behind the back four, organisation and distribution. His shot-stopping was outstanding. He is a top keeper.
“He dominates his 18-yard box and bullies his back four. Keiren is a good organiser and talker.
“He has such a voice and presence. You need that spine.
“I’ve got it in Glenn Loovens and Jose Semedo pulling players around the pitch. Keiren deserves all the credit for his performance.
“I’m just gutted for him because if anybody deserved to keep a clean sheet for their performance it was him.
“I think we have probably got the two best keepers in the Championship in Keiren and Chris Kirkland. We are fortunate to have two outstanding keepers.”
Wednesday gave the ball away at regular intervals in the first half. Leeds looked the far more accomplished team in possession.
Westwood was called into action after 12 minutes, rushing off his line to thwart the impressive Alex Mowatt from an acute angle.
In a promising five minute spell for the hosts, Mowatt fed Souleymane Doukara, who drilled a shot wide before Rudy Austin’s fierce 30-yard shot was acrobatically tipped over one-handed by Westwood.
Against the run of play, Stevie May could have given the Owls a half-time advantage. Maguire swung in a lovely cross which the striker, who will be on international duty with Scotland’s senior squad for the first time this week, some how glanced wide when he should have at least hit the target.
Gray claimed Wednesday struggled to hold the ball up front, prompting him to swap Atdhe Nuhiu for Gary Madine.
“We didn’t keep the ball well enough up there,” he said. “It was coming back too easily.
“We were giving them too much time on space. It didn’t happen for Attey today. We needed to have more ball retention and a physical presence and Gary gave us that. I thought he did well. He made an impact and put himself about.”
Things opened up after the break. Lively White striker Antenucci lobbed Westwood after a poor back-pass by Owls skipper Glenn Loovens but Liam Palmer headed his strike away from near the goal line.
On the counter-attack, Maguire unleashed a low shot which went into the side-netting before Antenucci was thwarted in a one-on-one situation by Westwood after a superb through ball by Doukara.
It took a fabulous strike by Maguire to break the deadlock in the 52nd minute. He latched on to Jacques Maghoma’s delivery, rifling in an unstoppable 20-yard drive which gave Marco Silvestri no chance.
“Credit to Chris,” said Gray. “We know he’s got a goal in him and it was a great finish.”
Maguire celebrated widly in front of the Leeds supporters after notching his second goal of the season. His every touch was booed after that and he picked up his fifth booking this term, meaning he will miss the Watford clash, after a heated altercation with left-back Gaetano Berardi. With Gray fearing Maguire might be sent off, he took him off with 20 minutes to go.
Maguire said: “I like to get the crowd on my back and wind them up. I felt I was unlucky to get booked because I didn’t really do anything.
“I’m experienced to know now that when I’m on a yellow card that I can’t do anything stupid. I was disappointed to come off but it probably was the right decision.”
Moments after Maguire’s opener, Antenucci’s venemous shot was beaten away by Westwood and the Italian missed the target after more good approach play by Leeds.
The turning point came on the hour mark when May turned sharply into the penalty area and scuffed a shot wide, having been fed by Madine.
Gray said: “He probably snatched at it a little bit. I would be more concerned if Stevie wasn’t getting in the areas where we are creating the chances for him. It will come for him. He’s just got to keep believing.”
Referee James Adcock dished out five yellow cards in six minutes as tempers threatened to boil over prior to Leeds’ equaliser.
It was sloppy, soft goal to concede from Wednesday’s perspective. Madine tried to head Mowatt’s free kick away but only succeeded in directing his clearance straight into the path of Giuseppe Bellusci and the former Catania player neatly side-footed a half-volley through Jose Semedo’s legs and out of Westwood’s reach. That was Leeds’ first goal under new head coach Darko Milanic.
“It was one of those games where we just found it hard to get together,” said Maguire. “I thought it was going to be one of those days but then we scored and we thought our luck had changed and we were going to come away with three points. We were unlucky not to win.”
Madine worked hard after coming on and gave Wednesday an outlet in the final third. He fired tamely at Silvestri in the dying minutes.
Westwood said: “I am happy with the way I am playing and pleased with the saves I made at Leeds but disappointed that we didn’t win.”
Well, without Westwood’s contribution, Wednesday would have gone home empty-handed and into the second international break on the back of another defeat.
Leeds United: Silvestri 6; Byram 6, Bellusci 7, Pearce 7, Berardi 6; Bianchi 7, Austin 6, Mowatt 7, Sloth 5 (Murphy HT, 6), Antenucci 7 (Morison 80), Doukara 6 (Sharp 68, 6). Substitutes: Subs. S Taylor, Cooper, Warnock, Adryan.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood 8; Palmer 6, Lees 7, Loovens 6, Mattock 6; Maguire 7 (Helan 70), Lee 6, Semedo 7 (Coke 83), Maghoma 6; Nuhiu 6 (Madine HT, 6), May 6. Substitutes: Kirkland, Buxton, Drenthe, Dielna.