MICHAEL TURNER is backing Keiren Westwood to shine after the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper’s heroic Premier League debut at Old Trafford.
Summer signing Westwood made his first top-flight start in the narrow defeat against Manchester United at the weekend after being drafted in to replace Simon Mignolet, who had suffered a broken nose and eye-socket against Aston Villa seven days earlier.
And the 27-year-old was Sunderland’s man of the match against the champions, producing a string of fine saves – including an incredible double stop from Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra – to frustrate Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
Westwood’s performance was a sign that he is a genuine rival to Belgian Mignolet and Scotland international Craig Gordon, who is still around a month away from recovering from a knee ligament injury, for Sunderland’s number one shirt.
Centre-back Turner said: “Keiren has done really well. He has been waiting patiently for his chance with Simon playing well, and now he has come in and made his full Premier League debut and shown he is a great goalkeeper. He showed that with his saves.
“Keiren is really vocal and is always shouting at the defence. That’s good, although sometimes we have to shut him up because he can be really annoying! His kicking his very good, he has a really strong left foot.
“We have to remember though that it is not all about Keiren. He will be keen to keep his place and that will help the whole team if he keeps performing like he did at United, but we do have other goalkeepers who are also top players.
“Aside from Keiren, Simon and, of course, Craig Gordon, we also have young Trevor Carson coming through too, and he is keen to make his mark. It will be great competition when they are all fit.”
Sunderland gave Manchester United a difficult afternoon on the weekend Ferguson celebrated the 25th anniversary of becoming Red Devils manager.
An own-goal from Turner’s central defensive partner Wes Brown meant the Black Cats returned home empty-handed, but if on-loan Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner had managed to get a toe to Seb Larsson’s inviting cross late in the game, the Black Cats could have forced a draw.
“We could have come away with something from United,” said Turner. “We wanted to stay in the game and throughout the whole game there was a sense that we could get something. We set out a gameplan and it worked. We were unlucky not to get a point.
“It was unfortunate to see the goal go in like it did. We did contain them in many ways. It is just one of those things. We were disappointed to concede of a set-play, but overall it was encouraging.”
Defeat meant Sunderland went into the international break in 15th place in the table with 10 points from 11 games, but Turner says the Wearsiders have so far not got the rewards their performances have deserved.
He said: “We can take encouragement from the performances that we have been putting in but it is frustrating that we have not got more points than we have on the board.
“Even though it was against United, that game sort of summed our season up really.
“We have been playing quite well but we haven’t been getting the points on the board, which is why we have been towards the wrong end of the table.
“But I am sure if we continue what we are doing that the wins will come.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has confirmed that scans on striker Connor Wickham’s injured knee indicate that the damage is not as bad as was first feared.
Wickham was stretchered off just two minutes into the game at Old Trafford with suspected knee ligament damage, which can sideline players for many months.
The 18-year-old had a scan on Monday but Sunderland will not put a timescale on Wickham’s recovery until he has seen a specialist this week.
Bruce said: “Initial scans are encouraging, but hopefully we will know more by the end of the week.”