THE Republic of Ireland are putting Keiren Westwood under pressure to leave Sunderland – after revealing he asked to do so in January.
If they succeed it could force Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill to add another goalkeeper to his summer shopping list.
Former Carlisle United goalkeeper Westwood (pictured left) has been his country’s first choice since the summer, but will not start tomorrow’s friendly against Poland.
Giovanni Trapattoni and assistant Marco Tardelli suggested he might struggle to get his place back while he continues to sit on the Sunderland bench.
“The goalkeeper is a particularly delicate position,” said Republic boss Trapattoni, who will start with Millwall’s David Forde instead.
“I don’t worry about an outfield player if he is not playing for his club but a goalkeeper is alone on the pitch, and if he hasn’t been playing it’s more difficult psychologically.
“I hope Westwood can play in the future but now the manager chooses (Simon) Mignolet.
“I told him you can change club and you can play.”
Westwood has played more for his club than his country this season. His three Black Cats outings were in the League Cup, so has not played competitively
since October. A far better goalkeeper than that, Westwood is unsurprisingly unhappy. He had an impressive run in the side at the end of 2011 as Mignolet recovered from facial injuries.
But when Westwood fell ill ahead of the New Year’s Day game, Mignolet was rushed back. He has certainly justified the decision, having arguably been the Premier League’s best goalkeeper in the first half of the season.
Tardelli shared Trapattoni’s concerns, which he claims the 28-year-old tried to address during last month’s transfer window.
“He tried (to leave), but O’Neill decided it was better that he stayed at Sunderland, and Giovanni can’t do anything about that,” said Tardelli. “For me, it would have been better if he had moved.”
Further upping the ante, Shay Given has offered to reverse last summer’s decision to retire from international football. That Ireland have so far declined to take him up on it might have something to do with the fact the Poland game is only a friendly. Next month the World Cup qualifiers resume with matches against Sweden and Austria.
Trapattoni’s leverage is limited because the only goalkeeper Ireland have playing top-flight football is fourth-choice Darren Randolph, and he only in Scotland.
Stephen Henderson is on West Ham United’s books, but all 16 of his league appearances have come with Championship Ipswich Town, while Forde is at Millwall. Even Given is second-choice at Aston Villa.
Westwood’s contract, signed when he joined on a free transfer from Coventry City, does not expire until the end of next season. Even if Sunderland hold him to it, O’Neill has pressing issues to address in the summer.
Centre-backs are needed with Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon out of contract, plus doubts over Wes Brown’s long-term fitness.
Kader Mangane has arrived to paper over the cracks but, like Sunderland’s only specialist left-back, Danny Rose, he is only on loan.
Rose has been outstanding this season but the Black Cats may find Tottenham Hotspur reluctant sellers, while Mangane is yet to play for them.
Sunderland also have only one specialist right-back, and are short at centre-forward, where four left in January with only Danny Graham arriving.
Westwood is one of nine Sunderland players theoretically on international duty this week. Benin have called up Stéphane Sessègnon but incredibly last night they had yet to name an opponent or venue for tomorrow’s game.
Meanwhile, Anthony Taylor will take charge of Saturday’s Premier League game at home to Arsenal. He has only refereed Sunderland once this season, in January’s 3-2 win at Wigan Athletic.
l BILLY Knott’s loan at Conference side Woking has been extended until March.