Given Chris Kirkland’s injury track record, many people within the football fraternity felt Sheffield Wednesday were taking a big gamble by signing the former England goalkeeper last summer.
But the shot-stopper has been a model of consistency since moving to Hillsborough and the risk manager Dave Jones took in bringing him to the Championship outfit has certainly paid off.
Indeed, the 32-year-old is set to make his 50th league start for the Owls in this Saturday’s clash with bottom-of-the-table Millwall. An ever-present last year in the second tier of English football in Wednesday’s successful fight to avoid relegation, Kirkland played an instrumental part in turning around their results in the second half of the campaign.
Kirkland, who began his career with Coventry City before joining Liverpool for £6m in 2001, made just one appearance last term in the cup competitions. Jones selected Stephen Bywater, Kirkland’s understudy, in between the sticks in the Capital One Cup ties with Premier League sides Fulham and Southampton. It was also Bywater who was given the nod in Wednesday’s FA Cup meetings with MK Dons.
“The gaffer and the chairman took a gamble on me,” Kirkland told this newspaper in May. “I thank them for that because I didn’t have many options last year.”
Kirkland, linked with a move to Hull City Tigers last May, is still searching for his first clean sheet of the 2013/14 season. Their injury-hit backline has now shipped in seven goals in four outings.
Although Jones men produced an improved defensive display at Leeds United last weekend, Wednesday were undone by an exquisite piece of attacking play from much coveted Leeds United striker Ross McCormack at Elland Road. His superb finish prevented Jones side from securing maximum points.
Attention has quickly turned to Saturday’s duel with Millwall, who are without a goal or point from their opening three matches, and Lions goalkeeper Stephen Bywater is in line to receive a good ovation from the Owls faithful. He left Wednesday in June, opting to move to the capital in search of regular first-team football.
Speaking in July, Kirkland admitted: “I was gutted to see Stephen go.
“It is very hard as a goalkeeper because only one of you can play. We will stay in touch and hopefully he will get in the first-team at Millwall.”