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Westwood puts difficult spell on Wearside behind him
KEIREN WESTWOOD admits it has been a difficult two years on the peripheral at Sunderland, but having started the season as Paolo Di Canio’s number one, the goalkeeper is confident he can fill the void left by Simon Mignolet.
When Mignolet left for Liverpool earlier in the summer, it seemed Westwood would finally get his chance on Wearside, however, the arrival of Vito Mannone cast that into doubt with the Black Cats boss keeping his cards close to his chest in pre-season.
Mannone started Sunderland’s two Asia Trophy games in Hong Kong and it seemed the Italian had maybe moved ahead of Westwood in the pecking order, but having started the first two games of the campaign, the Republic of Ireland international is relieved to finally get his chance.
“I think what it is about for me is proving to people what I can do,” Westwood revealed. “I had twelve months, more or less, on the sidelines and it's not what any professional wants to do. When you get that opportunity you've got to go out there and show what you can do.
“From not playing for so long you do have a few nerves so it is just about getting back into the swing of things and that's what I'm trying to do now.
“Hopefully I'm putting in some performances that I can be proud of, my team can be proud of and the whole club can be proud of. It's about the whole team, not just me.”
Although he was signed to challenge Mignolet as Sunderland’s number one, Westwood was unfortunate that the Belgium keeper would continue to produce vital saves, leaving him to watch from the sidelines.
The prospect of leaving in order to find regular first-team football may have crossed his mind, but now Westwood is focused on making the most of his opportunity and believes his frustration over the past two years has only made him better.
He said: “It's difficult for me to talk about because Simon is a friend. He did well last year but I'm not concentrating on Simon anymore. He's gone to Liverpool and he'll prove himself there. He's a good goalkeeper.
“I've just got to look after myself and put in more performances like I did on Saturday. I need to keep going myself and put more confidence in myself and my own ability.
“It was tough last year - mentally it was very, very challenging but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I think I've become a better goalkeeper for it. Mentally it has made me a lot stronger and hopefully I can put in the performances that show that.”
After two disappointing results, the Black Cats will look to kick-start their season against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup tonight.
Sunderland met the League One outfit in the third round of last season’s competition and Westwood knows a defeat on home soil would be unacceptable.
“This is a big competition for us this season,” the keeper said. “We've got a home game against MK Dons. We played them last season and won 2-0. We want to progress - we're a Premier League side and you don't want to be beaten by a League One side, with the greatest respect to them. It would be unacceptable.
“We have to be switched on, we have to approach it in the right way and we have to make sure that we're as ready for it as we can be because they will make it very difficult for us.
“The club is a very big club. We get big followings - look at the number who backed us at Southampton. The potential is there but we've been saying it for a long time. Now we've got a team that is more than good enough to hold our own in this division. If we have a bit of belief and confidence in our own ability I think we'll be OK."
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