Where would Sheffield Wednesday be this season without goalkeeper Keiren Westwood?
A lot further down the Championship table is the simple and honest answer.
The Republic of Ireland international has produced a string of impressive performances since joining the Owls in the summer.
The 30-year-old, released by Sunderland at the end of last season, has been Wednesday’s stand-out performer this term, recording nine clean sheets in 18 league starts.
At key moments in matches, Westwood has made vital saves to leave opponents frustrated. In the Owls’ last outing, the former Carlisle United and Coventry City player spread himself superbly to prevent Huddersfield Town striker Nahki Wells scoring in a one on one situation.
If Westwood maintains his fine form, it is likely there will be interest in his signature when the transfer window reopens in January.
Owls head coach Stuart Gray said: “Keiren has just sheer presence in his own 18-yard box. He has huge confidence but is not overly arrogant.
“He’s a big keeper in front of the goal. Even on Saturday when Wells is one v one, you just have that feeling he is going to make that save.
“Keiren has probably made one mistake all season and that was in the Watford game when he showed he is human.”
Back-up goalkeeper Chris Kirkland is expected to resume training today, having shaken off an illness which ruled him out of last Saturday’s derby.
“Kirky has brought the best of Keiren Westwood,” insisted Gray.
Kirkland has struggled to dislodge Westwood in between the sticks, making just three appearances. His last outing came in the 7-0 drubbing at Manchester City on September 24.
Gray said: “I have regular conversations with Kirky. He’s a great professional.
“He is disappointed he’s not in the side. I’ve told him he’s got to keep working and pushing.”
The Wednesday chief is urging players on the periphery of his first-team squad to give him a selection dilemma as they look to get back to winning ways when they host second-from-bottom Wigan Athletic tomorrow.
“I don’t want players happy if they are not in the team,” stated Gray. “They have all got to push and fight.
“The last thing I want is for people to be happy picking up their wages and being sat on the bench.
“At the moment, we have maybe had two or three lads who have lacked that little bit of competition where they need to be pushed and looking over their shoulder thinking ‘if I don’t pull my weight here, the gaffer will change it and I will be out of the side.’”
Owls’ senior players trained at Hillsborough yesterday. They have fired blanks in their last four home matches.
Gray said: “Sometimes you don’t play on your own patch for two weeks. I thought we would do something different. We did a finishing drill. Everybody had the feeling of scoring a goal.”
Despite their 11-match winless run, Gray believes Wednesday’s displays have been “reasonably good”. Now he is demanding the side show more quality in the final third to turn draws into wins.
“Four defeats in 18 games is not a bad record,” he said. “You don’t go on that sort of run if you haven’t got togetherness and spirit.
“I’m as disappointed and frustrated as the fans are that we haven’t won more games. We have had opportunities in several games to kill off teams and get the three points.
“We have people throwing their bodies on the line trying to keep the ball out. It’s fantastic how many clean sheets we have kept.
“The fans are staying with the players because they see the effort and commitment. We just need to convert our chances.”
Three points could move Wigan out of the relegation zone.
“They have that new manager syndrome,” said Gray. “Malky Mackay will be disappointed they didn’t get off to a win last Saturday.
“Wigan have some quality players. For whatever reason, it has gone wrong up there. If we let good players get their heads up and pick out a pass they will hurt us as we saw last season when they beat us 3-0 at our place. We have to be in their faces.
“We can’t stand two yards off them. We have to be very competitive.”