Sheffield Wednesday: Consistent Keiren Westwood thrives on the big stage
Amid a first-half Brighton and Hove Albion onslaught down on the south coast, one Owls player stood out.
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood produced a series of outstanding saves to keep the Seagulls at bay in the opening half an hour of the second leg.
Oozing class and confidence, Westwood commanded his area with calmness and authority. With his fine handling and distribution, the former Sunderland player alleviated the pressure on Wednesday’s defence.
It was an accomplished display by Westwood and Wednesday followers will be hoping he has got one more big match left in him this season.
Skipper Glenn Loovens told The Star: “We know Keiren is a great goalkeeper and we know he’s there to do his part when we can’t. He has been doing that for the last two years.
“It helps massively knowing we have got someone lof Keiren’s quality behind us. You always like a back up when things don’t go your way and Keiren has been brilliant for us all season.”
Despite a couple of injury problems, Westwood, named in the 2014/15 PFA team of the season, has chalked up 14 clean sheets in 36 outings this time around.
He has expressed his delight over the progress the team have made since he arrived on a free transfer 22 months ago.
“We have built on what we did last season,” he said. “I think the work ethic we put in last year, we were really hard to beat.
“We’re the same again but we’ve got a bit more attacking threat with the likes of Gary Hooper, Fernando Forestieri and the others. The lads work incredibly hard.”
Westwood’s impressive form has culminated in him being named in the 35-man Republic of Ireland squad for their friendlies with the Netherlands and Belarus. Westwood will join up with the rest of the Republic side after Saturday’s Championship Play-Off Final against Hull City, meaning he will miss their clash with the Dutch on Friday, but could feature versus Belarus next week.
Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal regards Westwood as the best goalkeeper outside the Premier League, but he has not represented the Republic since their draw with England in June 2015.
Speaking in April, Carvalhal said: “I can’t talk about the options of another coach because if I do this, I am shooting against my goal because I don’t like other coaches talking about my options.
“What I can say about Keiren is what I said before: we are very happy with Keiren. He is doing fantastic here, he is a goalkeeper who was the best in the Championship, and he is still the best ‘keeper in the competition.
“He probably doesn’t have as much work to do as last year, because goalkeepers at big teams don’t have too much work, but they are responsible to give answers in difficult situations.
“He had a period where he had some problems. After his last physical problem, he has been fantastic. He came back very strong. He is playing fantastically after the injury, he is strong and in his best shape of the season.”