PHIL Bardsley believes Keiren Westwood has proved he can handle the Premier League’s pressure cooker, with the stopper on standby to make his full debut at Old Trafford.
Westwood made his first Premier League appearance as a second half substitute in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa after fellow keeper Simon Mignolet was forced off with a broken nose.
Mignolet underwent surgery yesterday after a CT scan on Saturday night, but is a major doubt for next weekend’s trip to Manchester United – leaving summer signing Westwood in line to make his first Black Cats start.
But full-back Bardsley, also likely to feature at Old Trafford after replacing hamstring victim John O’Shea against Villa, has backed the Republic of Ireland keeper to cope with a daunting bow against the Premier League champions.
Westwood (right) showed his colours by denying Darren Bent a goal on his return to the Stadium of Light, with the former Sunderland favourite’s only opportunity blocked by the legs of the ex-Coventry custodian.
Bardsley told the Echo: “Keiren’s an international. He’s played for Ireland and had many games in the Championship so he’s a top goalkeeper and he showed that on Saturday.
“He had one save where he had to come up trumps and he’s produced a great save. We said Benty was destined to get one chance and we had to be ready for it.
“It was a decent bit of play by him, but fortunately for us, Keiren pulled off a world class save.”
He added: “I was right next to Simon and I looked down when his nose was bleeding. I tried to pick him up, but I had to look away because it wasn’t a nice sight.
“It’s quite sad really because he was showing some great form, but I’m sure he’ll be back sooner rather than later.
“Keiren looks like he’ll get his opportunity now with a couple of games to come in and show what he’s all about.”
Bardsley was a first half replacement for former Man United team-mate O’Shea, as the Irishman limped off with a repeat of the hamstring problem sustained during pre-season.
Last season’s Player of the Year helped Sunderland twice come from behind to earn a deserved share of the spoils, although Bardsley felt the Black Cats should have done more to register back-to-back wins during the second half.
The 26-year-old said: “I knew I’d have to be patient for my return. With Sheasy’s injury, I had a chance to come on and play my part and hopefully I can play in the next game as well.
“I’d say it was a fair result and most spectators would say that. I thought we dominated the first half and then in the second, we took our foot off the gas a bit and let them in.
“But it was a great effort from the lads and a point is not the worst thing in the world. It’s two good results from the last two games and hopefully we can kick on.”