Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood backed to become Ireland’s No 1

Owls keeper Keiren Westwood celebrates with Atdhe Nuhiu after their win at Rotherham.
Owls keeper Keiren Westwood celebrates with Atdhe Nuhiu after their win at Rotherham.
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One chant which Wednesdayites have sung with particular gusto throughout the 2014/15 season has been ‘there’s only one Keiren Westwood’.

That song reverberated around the AESSEAL New York Stadium following the experienced goalkeeper’s second superb stop to deny Millers striker Matt Derbyshire during the first half of Saturday’s pulsating derby.

It was even chanted after Westwood made a rare and uncharacteristic mistake at home to Watford last October when he spilled in Almen Abdi’s long range effort. Despite that aberration, he looks a shoe-in for the Player of the Year award.

Westwood, signed on a free transfer last July, has played an instrumental role in the Owls boasting one of the meanest defences in the division.

Stuart Gray’s backline are now just one clean sheet away from equalling the club-record of 17 shut-outs set by Jack Charlton’s team 36 years ago.

Without Westwood’s heroics, Wednesday would be much further down in the Championship table.

Westwood, formerly of Carlisle United, Coventry City and Sunderland, has been included in the Republic of Ireland squad for Sunday’s crucial European Championship 2016 qualifier against Poland and Nicky Weaver is backing him to become their number one.

Weaver, the Owls’ academy goalkeeping coach, told The Star: “Keiren has got 16 caps for his country and he’s still only 30 so he’s got plenty of time to play at that level.

“There is no reason why he can’t become Ireland’s number one because, no disrespect to David Forde, Millwall are at the wrong end of the table and Wednesday are mid-table.

“Darren Randolph and Shay Given are in the squad too but Keiren has got to really fancy his chances of playing. I would suggest he is the one who is in the best form.”

Former Wednesday star Weaver believes goalkeeping coach Andy Rhodes deserves big credit for helping Westwood get his career back on track at Hillsborough.

“Andy works with all the keepers every day and keeps them on their toes,” he said. “He’s that shoulder to lean on when they need it.

“Andy has been a big influence throughout Keiren’s career. They have known each other since their days together at Manchester City.

“I would imagine Keiren is playing the best football of his career at the minute. He has been outstanding for us.

“His performances have been great and he’s kept a lot of clean sheets.

“It’s not only been down to Keiren. It’s the 10 players in front of him but when he has been called upon, he has made important saves at important times and been one of our best players.”

Injuries and the form of Simon Mignolet and Vito Mannone restricted Westwood to just 18 Premier League starts on Wearside. Sunderland decided against offering him a new contract last summer, paving the way for him to pen a two-year deal at Wednesday.

“Wherever Keiren has been, he has answered the questions that have been asked of him,” said Weaver. “He was at Man City as a young lad and went to Carlisle, he did great there and went to Coventry.

“His career stagnated a little bit when he was at Sunderland but that was just because he didn’t play. He went to a bigger club and there was more competition for places so it was difficult for him to get a run of games.

“Since moving to Wednesday, Keiren has been a revelation. He has been a quality keeper for a number of years but it’s the first time, since he was at Coventry, where he’s had a proper run of games and got back into the groove. He has done great.”