KEIREN Westwood tonight begins his quest to establish himself as Sunderland’s number one keeper.
And the Republic of Ireland international says he can’t wait to get started after kicking his heels on the sidelines for the last few weeks.
The Black Cats face Kilmarnock at the Scottish Premier League side’s Rugby Ground this evening in a game specifically designed to blow the cobwebs away from Westwood, Asamoah Gyan and Wes Brown, who are all in line to make their first appearances of pre-season.
And for Westwood it is a first opportunity to press his claims for a place in Sunderland’s starting line-up in the opening day game against Liverpool in just over a fortnight’s time.
The 26-year-old was a spectator during the pre-season games in Germany as Sunderland decided to take no risks with the Bosman signing as he completed his recovery from shoulder surgery.
But this evening Steve Bruce will run the rule over a stopper who is confident that having finally reached the highest level of the game, he can establish himself there.
Westwood told the Echo: “It’s always a frustration when you’re out with injury but this hasn’t been that much of a problem for me because I always knew that I was going to have the shoulder problem cleared up as soon as the season finished with Coventry.
“It was not unexpected and having the surgery straight away meant that I would be able to get some sort of pre-season under my belt.
“Obviously you want to be playing and obviously never more so than when you join a new club.
“But the surgery went well. It means I can hopefully put the injury problem behind me completely and it’s just a case of building up fitness and sharpness as soon as I get the OK to play.”
That green light should come tonight when Sunderland’s latest pre-season game will see manager Steve Bruce looking for more signs that things are coming together for his new look squad.
With established number one goalkeeper, Scotland international Craig Gordon, due to be sidelined for months into the season, Westwood knows he has a golden opportunity to make his mark early in the 2011-12 campaign if, as expected, his greater experience gives him the nod over 22-year-old Belgian Simon Mignolet.
Westwood said: “No one but the manager can decide who is going to play but I’m ready for the challenge of proving I deserve my chance.
“I’ve played well over 250 first-team games now and I know I’m ready for the next step, which is playing regularly in the top flight.
“Sunderland have got two excellent keepers in Craig and Simon, but that’s what you expect when you come to a Premier League club like this.
“That’s what the challenge is all about. And I’m just looking forward to pulling on the jersey and getting started.”