Alan Biggs at Large: Bright future for Owls kid Wildsmith, says former '˜keeper Hodge
There was a time when a Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper made 214 consecutive league and cup appearances. It remains a club record perhaps unlikely ever to be beaten.
This was Martin Hodge and there was little or no rotation in cup competitions back in his day. But for which Joe Wildsmith would not have made his Owls debut when he did. And the young understudy for Keiren Westwood would have had a far more nerve-shredding start to his senior career with his hometown club.
Not that Wildsmith would have worried unduly about that. There is something that separates goalkeepers from other players and it seems he’s got it. Don’t ask me, ask Hodge, the man who began his record run under Howard Wilkinson with promotion in 1984 and then helped the club compete at the high end of the top flight for several seasons.
Martin, now a scout for Championship leaders Burnley, distilled his view of Wildsmith in one word when we had a chance meeting at a recent game. “Unflappable.” And if ever there was a word that could have described Hodge himself then that would have been it.
I think it also leapt into the mind of all of us who saw Wildsmith handed his debut in a routine 4-1 Capital One Cup cruise against Mansfield back in August.
He had little to do but was admirably composed when called on and reeled off one exceptional save. First impressions can be misleading but not this one.
When Westwood was taken off injured in the next match at Ipswich, Wildsmith came on from the bench in another of his 12 appearances in what has been a breakthrough season in the wake of loans to Barnsley and Alfreton.
Already comes a comparison with a current England goalkeeper.
Whisper this bit because Martin told me “don’t make too much of a fuss” but the former Owls star went on: “Joe reminds me so much of Jack Butland. You have to be unflappable as a goalkeeper because mistakes are inevitable. It’s an important quality to have.
“Joe can make a mistake and it won’t bother him. A good shot-stopper too. I’d say he has a real chance.”
Hodge didn’t specify a chance of what exactly but he didn’t need to. The mention of Butland, the Stoke keeper established in the England squad at 23 (albeit sadly injured last weekend last weekend and out of the Euros), was enough. Certainly, it’ll be no secret in the game, among the big clubs as well, that Wildsmith is one to watch.
I recall Wednesday’s assistant coach Lee Bullen remarking to me early this season that Wildsmith was a likely target for major interest in the not too distant future. The great thing for the Owls these days, and also for the sake of the young keeper’s development, is that the club can look to call him theirs for keeps.
It’s all go again following the international break. Huddersfield away on Saturday, Blackburn at home on Tuesday. . . two highly winnable fixtures in the race to secure that play-off place.