Hundreds of Owls fans stayed behind after the goalless draw with Norwich to clap goalkeeper Keiren Westwood off the pitch.
There were cries of ‘There’s only one Keiren Westwood’ and the Republic of Ireland international had a big smile on his face as he walked back into the home dressing room. He scooped the Man-of-the-Match award after ensuring Wednesday avoided back to back Hillsborough defeats. Westwood earned every sip of his bottle of bubbly.
Norwich threw everything at Wednesday in the second half but they couldn’t find a way past Westwood. He produced a save in the 69th minute which legendary England goalkeeper Gordon Banks would have been proud of as he some how, diving to his left, clawed out Cameron Jerome’s header following Gary O’Neil’s free-kick.
On top of that stop, Westwood also brilliantly denied Jerome on two occasions and foiled lively substitute Nathan Redmond. Sunderland’s decision to let Westwood go in the summer gets stranger by the week.
Norwich manager Neil Adams said: “I haven’t seen a better goalkeeping performance than that this season. He did his job. He was outstanding.”
After a scrappy first half, the visitors dominated the play, possession and territory only to come up against an inspired shot-stopper.
Owls boss Stuart Gray said: “Keiren has shown what a top-quality goalkeeper he is. He looked unbeatable.
“I would say that’s his best performance since joining us. It shows the character of the man when you think the last game that we played at Hillsborough he had a shocker with Watford’s second goal going in.
“He’s a fantastic individual and takes great pride in his work and performance. It shows you need a base to work from.
“We’ve got Keiren Westwood and then Chris Kirkland who is pushing. Maybe Chris deserves a compliment because he is getting the best out of Keiren.”
If Westwood maintains his high standards, you would think there is a strong chance a Premier League club or two will came calling regarding his services when the transfer window reopens in January. He has been instrumental in the Owls recording nine clean sheets and boasting the meanest defence in the division.
Gray admitted: “The big clubs are always going to be looking if players are performing well. We’ve got a goalkeeper who has been outstanding and consistent. But so has Tom Lees.
“Our back four at the moment is doing very, very well with the amount of clean sheets we have had. But we need to start chipping in with goals at the other end.”
While you cannot fault the players application, the team look short on confidence at the business end of the pitch. Since the last international break, Gray’s charges have failed to find the back of the net and
Norwich restricted them to few clear sights at goal.
It took the Owls 62 minutes to register a shot on target and that was a weak drive by Stevie May easily gathered by John Ruddy. Only bottom club Blackpool have scored fewer goals.
Some of the home side’s passing in the early stages was quite intricate and pleasing on the eye but they lacked penetration in the final third.
Claude Dielna, making his first start for Wednesday due to Joe Mattock’s one-match ban, whipped in a lovely cross after good build up play on the left flank but May steered his header well wide.
Then came the best chance of the first period. Michael Turner lifted the ball over Owls’ backline and Lewis Grabban beat the offside trap and had only Westwood to beat. But Westwood is a master in a one-on-one situation and he spread himself well to thwart the former Rotherham United striker. It was a huge let-off.
For all of their neat approach play, Wednesday never put Norwich under pressure for a sustained spell and the Canaries came close to breaking the deadlock through Bradley Johnson but his free-kick was turned away by Westwood.
In an attempt to try to solve their goalscoring problems, Gray recruited Gary Taylor-Fletcher on a month’s loan from Leicester City just before Wednesday’s meeting with Norwich.
The 33-year-old made his debut as a sub, coming on, along with Royston Drenthe, in the 57th minute, to liven Wednesday up as an attacking force. Taylor-Fletcher, who has featured just twice for the Foxes this season, underlined his rustiness by miscontrolling Dielna’s precise pass into the arms of Ruddy, having sprung the off-side trap.
Gray said: “Gary is beating himself up thinking he maybe should have done better with that half-chance.
“We are very grateful Leicester have allowed him to come out. I don’t think Gary arrived here until 10.30am on Saturday so I’ve got to give him credit.
“I saw him play for Leicester against Rotherham in a pre-season friendly so I made calls then but it has just taken that long to get him in the building. He’s not been the only one we’ve been chasing.”
Taylor-Fletcher had a trial spell at Hillsborough in July 2013 but then Owls manager Dave Jones decided not to offer him a contract. The forward went on to earn a deal at Leicester, who lifted the Championship title last year.
“Gary trained with us for three weeks,” said Gray. “I had the opportunity to work with him then and saw what he could do and I’ve always kept an eye on him. He scored a lot of goals for Blackpool and that was fantastic for himself.
“Gary is a link-up man. He can slip people in. He will get goals but he will also provide goals for Stevie and Attey.
“He’s not going to be one, at his age, who is charging around, but he is a voice and he can talk to Stevie and Attey and pass on his knowledge.”
Before the Norwich onslaught, Wednesday had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Jeremy Helan was bundled to the ground by Steven Whittaker but the referee awarded a free-kick just outside the box.
Gray said: “We’ve got to have a bit more self-belief. We started very well in the first 20 minutes and pegged them back and got into good areas. It was just that final ball and decision-making. There was probably a 10 to 15-minute period in the second half where we were in awe of Norwich. We didn’t get in their faces and make it difficult for them.
“They’ve got to have more belief because they have every right to be playing against these players.”
Wednesday: Westwood 9; Palmer 6, Lees 7, Loovens 7, Dielna 7 (Maghoma 81); Maguire 6 (Drenthe 57, 6), Lee 6, Semedo 6, Helan 7, Nuhiu 6 (Taylor-Fletcher 57, 6), May. Substitutes: Kirkland, Coke, Madine, Hope.
Norwich: Ruddy 6; Whittaker 6, Martin 7, Turner 7, Olsson 7; Tettey 6; Howson 6, Johnson 6 (Redmond 67, 6); Odjidja 5 (O’Neil HT); Jerome 7, Grabban 6. Substitutes: Rudd, Hooper, Hooiveld, Miquel, Murphy.