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Saturday, 30 August 2014

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Super stopper Keiren has the whole world in his hands

JUST as the top strikers take a big interest in their goals to matches ratios, the men between the sticks have a little obsession with their clean sheets.

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STARTING POINT These three BAE Systems’ employees hold very different positions within the company but have an apprenticeship in common. Shown, from left, is apprentice training manager Paul Rennie, apprentice pipe fabricator Rob Ross and head of project for Boat three, Artful Kev Critchley HARRY ATKINSON REF: 50059350B009

Keiren Westwood takes to the calculator on his mobile and deduces that of his 150 senior games - a milestone reached for Carlisle at Millwall last Saturday - the opposition has failed to beat him on 57 occasions.

It is a record of which the 23-year-old Mancunian can justifiably be proud.

Westwood’s heroics this season have made a huge contribution to Carlisle’s persistent promotion push and that has been recognised in more ways than one.

Not only was he named in the PFA League One team of the year, he was also the overwhelming choice of News & Star readers as the Carlisle United player of the year.

At next Sunday’s end-of-season club awards bash there’s a near-guarantee that more accolades will come his way.

Clean sheets. Clean sweep.

At 6ft 2in and with dark hair and expressive light blue eyes, Westwood cuts an imposing figure.

He talks intelligently.

You express a view that, as a goalkeeper, he inhabits a cult that has always been known as a breed on its own; a little crazier than the rest.

And he retorts: “I’m sure that used to be the case. You look at old black and white films of cup finals and there’s the keeper bouncing the ball and getting bundled over the line by a strapping centre forward and a goal is awarded. Yes, you’d have had to be a little bit mad to be a goalkeeper then, but the game has changed. For the better, I think.”

As a kid he was a Manchester City fan, drawn to Maine Road by the acrobatic exploits of Tony Coton who, between 1990-96, made 163 appearances and in the process framed a mindset for one particular youngster in the stands.

“I used to go around in a shirt with ‘Coton’ on the back,” recalls Westwood, who was actually in Manchester United’s under-12s before swapping red for blue and turning out for City’s under-13s.

“I didn’t enjoy it at United,” he recalls. “It was too serious. I had much more fun playing Sunday league football with my mates.”

Westwood was released by City in the summer of 2004 having understudied Nicky Weaver and Carlo Nash and was snapped up by Carlisle.

Along the way he had a little spell on loan at Oldham and recounts: “The problem there was that I just couldn’t get a game. Sometimes it takes a while to unravel one of life’s little mysteries and this one was cleared up when Paul Murray told me here at Carlisle that the Oldham boss at the time, Brian Talbot, had admitted to him that he made a mistake over me when he released me.

“I thought that was quite big of Brian really. I respect him for that. He’d no need to hold his hands up to anything and I admire the fact that he did.

“So for a little time I had no club and it was a case of picking myself up, dusting myself off and starting all over again. I did that.”

Crucial to this period of readjustment was the love of his life, Danielle.

“She was a brick,” says the big fella. “We met when I wasn’t a footballer...well I was, but I had no club and no money, and she’s stayed with me through thick and thin.

“She’s now my fiance and we are getting married in 2010. I love her.”

A tender touch from a man who, judging by the number of scouts who have been putting him under the microscope, is certain of a big future in the game.

“I don’t think about the future,” he asserts “only the journey I’m undertaking at a particular moment in time. This is a great ride with Carlisle and I’m fully focused on what’s happening at my club to the exclusion of what could be and what might be.

“The could be is that right on the final day of this season on Saturday we’d be promoted to the Championship. If not, it’s the play-offs and we’ll deal with that if and when we’re involved.

“Going up would be fantastic for this club. It would mean three promotions in four seasons for a bunch of guys who have largely played together throughout that time.

“For the first time in a long time it’s not in our own hands right now. We’ve stumbled over the final hurdle and it’s now become a case of finding one last push. But I get the feeling that if we look after ourselves rather than worrying about what other people are doing we’ll be alright.”

Westwood believes that this Carlisle team has plenty of heroes in it, citing David Raven, Danny Livesey, Joe Garner and Danny Graham.

“Danny’s been phenomenal,” he says. “We’ve been playing 4-5-1 with him as a lone striker and the amount of ground he has covered in that role, his tackling back, his enthusiasm and his goals have been something to behold.”

For personal inspiration, Westwood loves to watch the Premiership keepers in action and reasons: “You take a little bit of each of them and try to adapt their best facets into your own game. You’d take plenty of David James, who’d probably be my number one, some of Petr Cech, who’s top drawer, and a good bit of Jose Reina, whose distribution is unbelievable the way he picks a pass and puts in the right winger, for instance.

Westwood was delighted to have met James at that PFA awards bash. And you suspect it will not be the last time that he mixes in elite company.

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