O’Neill boosted by Sunderland keeper contest

Keiren Westwood
Keiren Westwood
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MARTIN O’NEILL admits Sunderland’s two international stoppers are giving him food for thought.

Republic of Ireland keeper Keiren Westwood was one of Sunderland’s few stand-out performers in Saturday’s final pre-season outing at Leicester City after the former Coventry man made a series of impressive saves to deny the Foxes adding to their solitary, match-winning goal.

Westwood (pictured) played second fiddle to Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet for much of last season, with his one sustained run in the side halted by illness on New Year’s Day.

But after Westwood and Mignolet each completed 90 minutes in Sunderland’s East Midlands double-header against Leicester and Derby, Black Cats boss O’Neill says the duo – both now away on international duty – are scrapping hard to start the Premier League campaign at Arsenal this Saturday.

O’Neill told the Echo: “We’re really strong in goal and, with the two of them here, there’s good competition for places which is great.

“They’re two international goalkeepers and I’m in a good position on that score.

“As we know, Keiren was unlucky when he was ill, Simon came in and did wonderfully well. It has been Simon’s position since.

“Keiren now thinks he might get a game with the Ireland team and Simon with Belgium, although he has competition there.

“But it’s good to have the two.”

O’Neill has rotated his two goalkeepers since Westwood returned to the fold from Euro 2012 duty and has applied a similar policy with his outfield players.

There has been little indication of how Sunderland will line up at the Emirates this weekend, with O’Neill continuing to experiment with different combinations and different positions for his players at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

But O’Neill has no fears at having little chance to blood his first-choice XI, with the bulk of Sunderland’s squad working together last season, even if there are fresh arrivals before the weekend.

“A lot of the players played together last season, so it’s not a massive concern,” added O’Neill.

“We’ve just genuinely wanted to get some physical fitness into them because it’s a long, long season.

“I’ve swapped the team around to have a look at the younger players as well – 20 or 25 minutes just to see what we have.

“At the same time, I want to get as much playing time into the senior players as possible. It’s been a balancing act the whole way through.

“Even if we had a couple of extra numbers to choose from, I would have still done the same thing.”