Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday: Owls in safe hands as rivals fight for No 1 spot

Joe Wildsmith
Joe Wildsmith
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IT is easy to see why there is not much to split Sheffield Wednesday goalkeepers Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson.

Both Steel City natives are 23 and signed professional terms in 2013 after joining the Owls as youngsters. All this coming after they first dipped their toes in the Sheffield and District Junior Sunday Football League with the likes of Beighton Falcons, Greenhill and Ecclesall Rangers.

The symmetry also extends to spending short loan spells at Alfreton Town in 2014.

With their careers so intertwined, it will surprise few among the coaching staff at the Owls’ Middlewood training ground that it is difficult to separate the pair when it comes to deciding upon the club’s new No 1 – with long-established custodian Keiren Westwood out of the picture.

Dawson got the nod at the start of the Championship campaign, but most observers would venture that there cannot have been too much in it.

Now, Wildsmith has been handed the gloves – and the chance to impress – at the Stadium of Light this evening, in a competition which has provided him with some fond memories.

An accomplished showing on Wearside and Wildsmith might just provide a firm nudge in the direction of Jos Luhukay too.

But whatever transpires as the season gets into full swing, it will not be at the expense of a strong friendship between two good mates and golfing partners too. But business is business.

Wildsmith said: “I have been here since I was 12 and met Cam when I was 15 and we have both been here ever since. Me and Cam were always going to be mates, but in this situation, it is a dog-eat-dog world in football. That is the way it is always going to be.

“Me and Cam will still go golfing on days off and hang about with each other. Our personalties are never going to change and we are never going to be horrible to each other or anything like that. But obviously, we both know we are going for the same spot and Westy is in there as well.

“There are three keepers going for the same spot; there is going to be competition and hard work put in and training is great and we all get on well. There is banter and messing about; nothing changes just because we are all going for the same spot.”

On not being handed the keepers’ gloves in the Owls’ opener at Wigan Athletic, Wildsmith added: “Obviously, I was extremely disappointed; any human being would be.

“But he (Luhukay) did explain it was up for grabs and no-one was the No 1 as such.

“After pre-season, he said he would decide and speak to us and that is what happened. He explained why and I went away and it was a tough couple of days. But I got my head around it and now need to push on again and work hard. That is all I can do.”

As for the League Cup, it has been a competition that Wildsmith has much to be grateful for.

It saw him propelled into the limelight during the Owls’ memorable run to the quarter-finals in 2015-16, which saw them take the prized scalps of Arsenal and Newcastle United en route.

A shock round-two victory at St James’ Park saw Wildsmith afforded his first taste of something akin to the big time with Wednesday and tonight’s televised spectacle 15 miles away at the Stadium of Light is an occasion that the keeper hopes will be the start of something similarly special.

And how the Owls could do with a lift, given a difficult summer at S6, topped off by the news that the club have been operating under a transfer embargo.

Wiildsmith said: “The cup run I had in my first year was unbelievable at that age to play against those teams and get victories. It will be something I remember for the rest of my life. I have souvenirs from those games with the keepers I have played against.

“It was great for the club and you saw the atmosphere against Arsenal and even being a fan, it is the first time I saw Hillsborough packed like that. That is the sort of occasion it can create. Hopefully that can happen again.”

For Luhukay, daring to dream is a luxury he can ill afford. It is all about coping with cards he has been dealt with – in this case, a club operating without an ability to bring in new players.

Quietly-spoken he may be, but the Dutchman is not without determination or logic.

After shutting out some background noise during some testing times at the likes of Stuttgart and Augsburg, he is following that same route again.

He said: “I have not had easy situations in the past, but in the end there was progression, results and success.

“All the things that happen behind, we have no influence of that. All I can do with my team and staff is to try to build our basis in the training every day to get results and success. All the rest is not important directly.”

Last six games: Sunderland DLLWWD; Sheffield Wednesday WWDWLD.

Referee: B Toner (Lancashire).

Last time: Sunderland 1 Sheffield Wednesday 3, April 2, 2018; Championship.