1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon, Simon Mignolet, Keiren Westwood
Overview: Similar to the fiercely competitive goalkeeping ranks at Newcastle, how Steve Bruce handles his trio of custodians throughout the season is going to be fascinating. Each one will think they’re entitled to the start, but barring revolutionary tactics rarely seen from Steve Bruce, two of them will be disappointed each week. As his several mistakes showed last season, Simon Mignolet is very good, but far from the finished article. I still think he’s likely to start the season as first choice and – in my mind at least – after that the picture gets muddy and possibly wildly inaccurate.
I’ve no doubt that Keiren Westwood has immense confidence in his own ability, but I would seriously doubt if he joined Sunderland expecting a three-way fight for the starting berth. I’m sure he backs himself, but it would be immensely naive of Westwood if he signed in the knowledge he would need to usurp the established Premier League performers, Gordon and Mignolet for the starting place. With a string of suitors, he had options that would surely have guaranteed him a start in the Premier League and probably not dissimilar money elsewhere. There’s no need for having three keepers of such quality in the squad, especially with the highly rated Trevor Carson in reserve. In my opinion, he was told privately that it would be a two horse race for the jersey and the horse most likely to be shipped to another stable is Craig Gordon. The Scot hasn’t done much wrong during his time at Sunderland, but he has become very injury-prone and I would suspect the club would rather make some money by selling him now rather than allowing his contract run down to it’s expiry next year. If Steve Bruce does intend to keep all three, then he’ll have a very strong hand to play with, but he’ll also have a major problem keeping everyone happy.
Worst case scenario: As much as I like Westwood, he’s prone to making silly ‘concentration-based’ mistakes (i.e. not technical flaws, just not always being entirely on the ball). If Mignolet does get dropped for making errors of his own, Westwood may not prove to be any more reliable. I’ve no doubt that the Irish international will develop into a good top flight keeper, but this will be his first taste of the Premier League and he may need the time and patience to adapt. If Craig Gordon is sold or injured, Sunderland’s goalkeeping options may not look too pleasing.
What will probably happen: Mignolet will perform well, but every now and then, will make a mistake. Depending on the nature of the mistake, Bruce may decide to drop him for a game or two, but I’d be surprised if he went for Westwood for an extended period of time, especially as he finds his feet in the Premier League.