When Cameron Dawson headed south to join Exeter on loan last summer, it’s fair to say that it’s a move you could suggest suited all parties. Dawson had spent the vast majority of the 2020/21 campaign not involved, and with Darren Moore in the market for a new number one, either permanently or on loan, it was his opportunity to get regular playing time under his belt once again.
Things couldn’t really have gone any better for Dawson, who recorded nineteen clean sheets from fifty appearances in all competitions. Exeter achieved automatic promotion from League 2 after finishing level on points with Forest Green Rovers in first, and Dawson’s heroics at times were integral in securing points for The Grecians. Most Exeter fans have praised the Sheffielder’s contribution to the cause, but now you could say that Dawson’s career is at a crossroads, depending on what he himself and what Sheffield Wednesday want to do.
I think it’s fair to say that Dawson’s story so far in terms of Wednesday has been primarily made up of downs. When Keiren Westwood was in the building, based on the period where he was one of if not the best keeper outside the top flight, it was always going to be difficult to challenge and replace him for the likes of Dawson and fellow goalie Joe Wildsmith. Westwood had also endeared himself to Wednesday fans in a way that he was the one many wanted to see between the sticks.
When former manager Jos Luhukay decided to remove Westwood from the picture, with Dawson taking over as number one ahead of the 2018/19 season, I don’t feel how things transpired was of any benefit to the largely inexperienced keeper. Replacing Westwood, who you could class as a fan’s favourite, only heaped further pressure on Dawson’s shoulders, keeping goal for a team very much moving in the wrong direction.
It was never going to be easy to be Wednesday’s number one with Westwood still officially at the club. Whether people agree or not, the stakes are high at SWFC, and so is the pressure. If you’re a keeper, everything you do is magnified, and even more so at Wednesday when you’re between the sticks and Westwood isn’t. And while this may not be something that some don’t want to hear, chanting for Westwood while Dawson was in goal didn’t help either.
Looking back at the situation, it’s easy to see why Dawson struggled. The odds of him succeeding at that moment, or in the one that followed under Garry Monk, were very much stacked against him. In hindsight, Wednesday should have recognised it was time for Westwood to move on and rejigged the goalkeeping department. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, after all.
Fast forward to the present day, and after a hugely successful loan spell at Exeter, which culminated in automatic promotion, what are the options for Dawson and Wednesday moving forward? Well, it’s highly likely Moore, and his staff, will want to run the rule over Dawson in pre-season after the departure of loanee Bailey Peacock-Farrell and with Wildsmith also potentially set to exit the club on the expiration of his contract.
You’re going to expect to see Dawson, who is a big character anyway, return not only more experienced but more confident to boot. You’re also going to expect to see improvements to his game with that too. You can train as much as you like, but it’s the in-game experience and learning that will provide the most dividends. And, with 50 appearances under his belt last term, there should be a decent return.
If Adriano Basso, Wednesday’s goalkeeper coach, Moore and co like what they see, it’s very possible that Dawson will be installed as next season’s number one. And after a season of campaigning as a number one, it’s what you’d imagine Dawson himself is looking to be. I doubt he will want to be a number two or even a number three moving forward, especially after his Exeter experience.
Wednesday will be adding in the goalkeeper department, that’s for sure. But, if Dawson is to be our number one, it’s going to be financially more beneficial, as we don’t have to search out and pay for a new number one. And, with Dawson contracted until 2024, Wednesday have the security of a couple of years where they don’t necessarily have to agree on a new deal while also having the time to run the rule over him once again.
If Dawson returns and isn’t fancied as our number one, he will likely be moved on, either in a loan deal or on a permanent. But, again, there are benefits to Wednesday, whichever path they choose to go down. If he’s on loan, they can get some or all of his wages covered while he’s adding even more experience to his game. If they sell him, on the back of being one of the top keepers in League Two last season, they can command a fee that can then be used to finance a move for his replacement.
There’s Dawson to consider in this as well. At twenty-six years old, and after such a great season, he wants to and should be playing regularly in a first-team somewhere where he feels valued by everyone. If he’s not going to get the opportunity to do so at Wednesday or feels like there could be too much uncertainty, he should put himself and his career first.
I’ll close by adding that if Dawson wasn’t on Wednesday’s books and we needed a keeper, and there was a twenty-six-year-old who had performed heroics for a League Two automatic promotion-winning side, with fifty appearances and nineteen clean sheets to his name available, who wouldn’t consider him as an option for us next season?
(Photo – Steve Bond/PPAUK)