KEIREN WESTWOOD is thankful that his summer graft has paid dividends after winning the battle to be Sunderland number one.
The Republic of Ireland international made his first Premier League appearance since December, 2011, in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Fulham after being preferred to new signing Vito Mannone for the top flight curtain raiser.
Westwood was limited to just three Capital One Cup appearances last season after playing second fiddle to Sunderland Player of the Year and now Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
But the 28-year-old insists he has dedicated himself to becoming Sunderland’s first-choice during the summer and despite Mannone starting more of the Black Cats’ pre-season friendlies, it was Westwood who got the nod from Paolo Di Canio.
Westwood told the Echo: “I’ve worked hard all summer, I didn’t have long off with my international commitments.
“I came back raring to go and looking to this season to put a marker down and cement my position really.
“Thankfully for me, my hard work has paid off and I’ve started the season.
“You’ve got to have belief in your own ability. Last season was really tough to be fair, but hat’s off to Simon, he had a great season.
“At times, you can hear the voice of reason and Simon was our player of the season.
“There were no gripes from me or animosity towards Simon. We got on great. I helped him as much as I could and pushed him as much as I could.”
Westwood admits his delight at starting against the Cottagers was tinged by the defeat, despite the stopper barely being tested.
Pajtim Kasami converted Fulham’s only effort on target, leaving Sunderland’s players beset by frustration after failing to make the most of their possession.
“Of course there were mixed emotions,” added Westwood.
“I was delighted on a personal level obviously to start the season; that’s what I was aiming for and what I’ve worked hard for.
“But by the same token, the result was terribly frustrating. They had one opportunity and it cost us really with a real sucker-punch.
“We dominated the game, without having a lot of chances.
“Their goalie made one great save from Ondrej (Celustka) within the first half, but other than that, we huffed and puffed without creating a lot.
“It’s real frustration, but back to the drawing board. I still think there are encouraging signs. I just think it was a day of pure frustration.
“The lads feel it as well as the fans do, but we’ll keep going, keep playing the way the gaffer wants us to play and I’m sure we’ll reap the benefit of that.”
Meanwhile, rookie Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been recalled from his loan spell at League Two Burton Albion.
The England Under-19 stopper had made three appearances for the Brewers, but his youth loan was terminated prior to Burton’s win at Fleetwood Town on Saturday.