KEIREN WESTWOOD is determined to prise Sunderland’s number one spot away from Simon Mignolet after playing second fiddle for the bulk of his maiden campaign on Wearside.
Euro 2012-bound keeper Westwood made just 10 appearances for the Black Cats this season after arriving on a free transfer from Coventry City last summer.
Mignolet began the campaign as Sunderland’s first-choice stopper and, after two months on the sidelines with facial injuries, resumed his starting role at the turn of the year.
But with fellow Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon – who continues to interest SPL champions Celtic – set to depart on a free transfer this summer, it will be a straight fight between Mignolet and Westwood next season to be Martin O’Neill’s number one.
Westwood said: “I am up for the fight next season. But I know it will be difficult when only one keeper can play.
“I’m 27 and sitting on the bench is not my cup of tea. It’s not why I play football and it is the first time since I got into the team at Carlisle at 20 that I have experienced it.
“Saturday afternoon is the most important day of the week, having the buzz of driving to the stadium and seeing people come to see you play is like nothing else.
“It has been a while since I have experienced it now.
“It gets thrown at you that you get paid more than decent money so just be happy, but that is not me.
“I keep working incredibly hard, but it is a new scenario for me and anyone who tells you they enjoy being on the bench might as well not be in football.”
Former Manchester City trainee Westwood impressed after making his Premier League bow last October.
But he lost his place through illness on the eve of Sunderland’s New Year’s Day victory over champions Manchester City and never managed to oust Belgian international Mignolet.
“I worked hard to get in the side and waited a long time for my chance to play in the Premier League,” said Westwood.
“I felt I’d done well enough to stay in the side and the bug, especially for the City game, was a real kick in the teeth.
“I had loads of family staying at the house the night before and while they were all downstairs having dinner, I was upstairs hugging the toilet.
“A bug had been going round the club and I got it. I was up from 4am being sick.
“I rang the club doc six hours before kick-off because I was in such a bad way.
“What was supposed to be a fantastic occasion for me turned into the biggest nightmare possible. But I am a big believer in fate and that everything happens for a reason.
“It’s made me stronger mentally as I have never had to deal with not playing before. I’ve kept my head down and worked hard.”
Westwood will continue to play second fiddle at next month’s European Championships, behind Republic of Ireland number one Shay Given.
He added: “The Euros have kept me going. I love playing for Ireland, it means the world to me and I’m delighted, very proud to make the squad.
“I want to go there and keep Shay on his toes and be ready if I get a chance. He is the best keeper I have seen play for Ireland, but I don’t know if he has had anyone pushing him.”
Ireland meet Spain, Italy and Croatia in Gdansk and Poznan this summer.