Dom Howson's Sheffield Wednesday column: What needs to happen this summer should Keiren Westwood remain an Owl

Eight months.

Wednesday, 1st May 2019, 10:19 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 17:04 pm

That is how long Joe Wildsmith has gone without making a competitive appearance in Owls colours.

Wildsmith played second fiddle to Cameron Dawson in the first half of a topsy-turvy campaign, featuring on just two occasions in the Carabao Cup.

Joe Wildsmith has not played since August

After Jos Luhukay lost his job just before Christmas, Wildsmith slipped even further down the pecking order as caretaker boss Lee Bullen recalled Keiren Westwood. The Republic of Ireland international, rated the best goalkeeper in the Championship before an injury in December 2017, was frozen out by Luhukay. The Dutchman stubbornly refused to turn to Westwood, despite the team's leaky defence and woeful run of form towards the end of his forgettable reign.

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Westwood feared his Owls career was over, but Bullen handed him a Wednesday lifeline.

The return of senior stars Westwood and Sam Hutchinson coincided with an upturn in the Owls' fortunes. Westwood, a vocal presence in Wednesday's defensive unit, has racked up an impressive 11 clean sheets in 20 outings.

Sheffield Wednesday No 1 Keiren Westwood

His present Owls contract runs out this summer but the 34-year-old stated in an interview in February he would like to remain at Hillsborough.

Westwood said: “It’s a fantastic football club.

"I have been here for five years and have a great relationship with the club, whether it’s in the kitchen or on the terraces.

"I don’t see why I would like that to change, but that’s out of my hands. Contract situations lie with Mr Chansiri and the gaffer."

His stock soared even higher after an outstanding individual display in the defeat away to promotion hopefuls Leeds United earlier this month.

But Westwood has sat-out Wednesday's last three fixtures. He missed the clashes against Norwich City and Bristol City due a knee injury suffered in the warm-up at Carrow Road but was left out of the trip to Preston North End because Bruce was keen to give Dawson another opportunity to show what he could do.

There is no disputing that Dawson is a fine shot-stopper - his double save against Bristol City was top notch - but he will feel disappointed with some of the goals he has conceded.

Will Wildsmith get a chance to shine in Sunday’s season finale against Queens Park Rangers? Bruce has hinted he will give him the academy graduate a run-out.

The fact is the Owls are blessed to have three good goalkeepers on their books. It is arguably the strongest department of their team.

But should Westwood be offered a new deal and opt to stay put, where would that leave Dawson and Wildsmith? The chances are Dawson and Wildsmith’s game time would be limited and their job would be to provide back-up to Westwood.

As good a prospects as Dawson and Wildsmith are, neither yet command the penalty area with the same level of assurance as Westwood does. Dawson and Wildsmith do not yet have Westwood’s powers of concentration. Westwood has an aura about him.

The good thing with Dawson and Wildsmith, though, is they still have plenty of time to grow and develop. Both are 23 and are young in goalkeeping terms. Their best years are in front of them.

The way I see it is Bruce will look to bring in a senior goalkeeper if Westwood leaves. It is such a key, specialist position that I have a sneaky feeling Bruce will probably want experience in that department at all costs.

But regardless of whether Westwood stays or goes, I think either Dawson or Wildsmith must go out on loan next season. At their age, it is no good one being sat on bench and the other sat in the stands. It would be better all round for at least one of them to be playing regular first-team football.