KEIREN Westwood hopes a fresh start in pre-season can propel him to Sunderland’s number one spot after reporting for duty ahead of schedule.
Westwood and goalkeeping rival Simon Mignolet have played a half each in the Black Cats’ last two pre-season encounters as the pair bid to be Martin O’Neill’s first-choice stopper for the Premier League opener at Arsenal a week on Saturday.
Republic of Ireland stopper Westwood never regained his starting spot from Mignolet in his maiden season on Wearside after dropping out of the side through illness on New Year’s Day.
It was the first time the 27-year-old had played second fiddle since being released by Manchester City as a teenager, after holding down a regular starting spot at former clubs Carlisle and Coventry.
But after returning to training a week earlier than he was required, Westwood is eager to re-establish himself under O’Neill.
Westwood told the Echo: “ I came back in early because I felt I didn’t need as long off.
“I came in maybe a week before the other internationals because I wanted to get started. Me and Simon both need minutes. We’re both training well and training hard and we’ll see what happens.
“Simon’s a good keeper, a good lad and we get on great. But of course, I want that jersey off him.
“Regardless of who you are, you have to earn your spot in the team and pre-season is a clean slate for everybody.
“You’ve got to do the best you can and then if the gaffer picks you at the start of the season then great.
“I’m a big believer in fate and the way things went for me last year just made me stronger mentally to deal with setbacks.
“I’ve not really had many setbacks in my career. I’ve always been number wherever I’ve played.
“It was something to get my teeth into, get my head down and work hard. I was waiting for another opportunity ... it didn’t come, but pre-season is an opportunity for everybody to stake a claim.”
Westwood returned a week earlier than fellow Euro 2012 participants John O’Shea, Seb Larsson and James McClean, with the latter trio making their first pre-season appearances in Saturday’s defeat against Swedish side Helsingborgs.
The 2-0 loss in Scandinavia was Sunderland’s third in four friendlies and Westwood hopes Sunderland can produce better in tonight’s trip to Derby County before their final pre-season outing at Leicester on Saturday.
“We had a tough week last week, but saying that, we shouldn’t be getting beat as we have done,” he added.
“But it’s still pre-season and a lot of lads need the minutes. Three of them only came back last week and they’re still coming back into the swing of things.
“We’ve got two really big games coming up now tonight and Saturday. We need to put some performances in in those two.
“They’re two Championship teams who are going to be aggressive and the games will be fast-paced. We’ll have to deal with that.
“The more training sessions and minutes we get under our belts, the better we’ll be.”