MARTIN O’Neill admits in an “ideal world” he would allow back-up keeper Keiren Westwood the chance to get first-team action on loan.
Westwood lost his place in the Republic of Ireland side for Wednesday’s friendly against Poland, with national team boss Giovanni Trapattoni warning that the Sunderland stopper needs to play regularly to be his country’s number one.
The 28-year-old’s only appearances for Sunderland this season have come in the Capital One Cup, with Simon Mignolet’s stunning form seeing the ex-Coventry stopper confined to the bench in the Premier League.
Sunderland boss O’Neill sympathises with Westwood’s situation and says he will continue to consider the possibility of allowing him to join a Championship club on a short-term loan before the end of the season.
But with 18-year-old Jordan Pickford providing the only back-up between the sticks, O’Neill is wary of relying upon Mignolet to maintain his ever-present record.
O’Neill told the Echo: “In an ideal world, it would be nice to get Keiren out to get some games to get that feeling of competition back in his bones.
“But with an outfield player, you feel at worst that you can move people around a little bit.
“With a goalkeeper, it’s hard to do.
“At this moment, it’s fine for young Pickford to watch things from the bench for two or three games, knowing your goalkeeper is going to get through the matches. But any more than that and it’s a concern.
“It’s obviously frustrating for Keiren because he wants to play games in someone’s teams. We’ll have a look at it.
“When international managers sit down to pick their national team, they would like as many players as possible to be playing first-team football.
“What is slightly concerning though – and I accept that sometimes things are lost in translation, and I’m not even saying Mr Trappatoni said what has been reported – is I’m not so sure you can be telling players they should be leaving football clubs just to get an international game.”
Westwood’s future beyond the summer is less certain, with the Irishman making just nine league appearances for the Black Cats since arriving on a Bosman deal 18 months ago.
But there is no shortage of interest in the former Manchester City trainee.
Sunderland received several approaches from Championship clubs during the January transfer window – thought to have included Hull and Ipswich – to take Westwood on loan until the end of the season.
That was a prospect O’Neill rejected out of hand, with no possibility of recalling the stopper if Mignolet was ruled out.
“The teams that were interested in taking him during the January transfer window wanted to take him until the end of the season,” added O’Neill.
“I’m not here to please other teams.
“There was nothing back for us. It would have meant we would have to search for another goalkeeper.”