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Exclusive: Joe Whitworth on ‘whirlwind’ Crystal Palace debut, U21 success and feeling ready for future loan spell

Joe Whitworth is no stranger to the big occasion.

With Sam Johnstone and then first choice Vicente Guaita both unavailable to Patrick Vieira due to injury, Whitworth, two weeks past his 19th birthday, was thrust on to the Premier League stage with little more than a handful of hours’ notice last season against arch-rivals Brighton in March 2023.

He became the South Londoners’ youngest top-flight goalkeeper as they fell to a 1-0 defeat at the Amex, breaking a club record held by Paul Hammond since October 1972.

The Sutton-born keeper was also the youngest stopper to appear in a Premier League match since Ben Alnwick for Sunderland in December 2005.

And Whitworth will be looking to call upon that experience when he leads his U21 side out at Selhurst Park tonight when Darren Powell’s side look to lift the Premier League International Cup against PSV Jong – a rematch of the 2023-24 final, which saw the Eagles fall to a 3-1 defeat.

Looking at Palace reaching back-to-back finals in the competition, with Palace beating Monaco and Everton en route to the final, Whitworth told the South London Press. “It’s an added confidence this year to be able to do it again.

“It was new last year – it was the first year being in the competition.

“We have a lot more experience and have won against some good teams. 

“We’re confident going into the game.

“We want to pick up the trophy in front of our fans and give them something to cheer about.”

Whitworth made four saves during the clash against Brighton last season, with two smart saves in the second half standing out.

He denied Pervis Estupinan with his feet after a low powerful effort from the overlapping full-back. But the pick of the bunch came in the 65th minute when Whitworth reacted well to an Alexis Mac Allister header from a corner to parry away the danger.

“It was a whirlwind, but I absolutely loved it,” added Whitworth.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Premier League, The Emirates Stadium, 19 March 2023
Picture : Keith Gillard

“I like to think that I thrive under pressure. I didn’t get much time to prepare, but I felt as though it was good.

“I was thrown in at the deep end, but I was massively proud to make my debut for this club.

“I must have watched the 90 minutes three or four times,” he admitted. 

“It [the save from Mac Allister] was one of my favourite ones throughout. 

“It was a reaction save to my right.

“To make a big save like that was thrilling. It gave me massive confidence throughout the game and has given me massive confidence to push on.”

Whitworth played the following outing against Arsenal, with Paddy McCarthy in charge of the side for the clash at the Emeries as Vieira was sacked, as Palace fell to a 4-0 defeat.

“I feel as though I have improved quite a lot since my debut,” he added.

“Me and Dean Kiely [first team goalkeeper coach] have had a few chats about games. The next level for me was to improve that crossing side, which I have this season.

“I have really put an emphasis on coming to claim and having the right timing for each cross. 

“I want to be on the front foot and be confident with it. 

“I’m really happy with how it has progressed, but I can keep making it better.

“I have put a lot of work in on the training pitch, which not many people have seen yet. I have worked on bits that I pointed out and needed work on.

“I have found little bits to help me get an advantage. I have worked hard on my power in the gym and also learned to use my body a lot more, so I’m moving around to give myself an extra yard to come and claim things.

“I have shown that I can perform in the U21 games and I have kicked on well. I’m looking forward to developing even more next season.”

The 20-year-old has spent the full season with the first team, training with Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone, and also travelling to nearly every Premier League game to act as cover.

But Whitworth has also picked up the Player of the Year award for the U21 age group for his stellar performances in a side that is constantly changing due to players heading out on loan or moving up to the senior squad.

Whitworth added: “I have played quite a few games this year and there have been a lot of consistent performers in the group.

“To be able to win it out of everyone is a great honour.

Joe Whitworth of Crystal Palace U21s during the Premier League 2 match between Crystal Palace U21s and West Ham United U21s at The VBS Community Stadium, London on 18 December 2023 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“There have been a lot of great players this season – a lot of standout performers.

“But the way I have performed consistently has caught the eye of people who have voted for me.

“My mindset was just to the next game and next game with how I perform. You’re only as good as your last game.

“What the people I trust around me tell me is to keep performing and putting those performances on in front of the right people.

“To playing every week, to not playing much, and now playing a full season, I feel good.

“This season has developed me well.”

When Whitworth has been with the U21 side this season, he has worked alongside Crystal Palace legend Julian Speroni.

The Argentinan keeper, who featured over 400 times for the Eagles and picked up the Player of the Season award four times during his playing stint at Selhurst Park, returned to Palace in October 2022 as an academy coach.

Whitworth added: “He’s a massive club legend. He played so many games consistently for the club.

Crystal Palace v Nottingham Forest Premier League, Selhurst Park, 07 October 2023
Picture : Keith Gillard

“He’s the type of style of goalie I am as well. I have looked up to him ever since I started watching him when I was eight or nine.

“For me now to be able to ask questions and to learn from his experiences is great for my development as well.

“I was at Brighton away play-off semi-final game – that save was the main thing that stands out to me.

“I’m not a huge goalie, and he wasn’t either. The main thing that we have to have as a smaller goalie is the confidence, power and spring to go and compete with the taller strikers. 

“It’s the main thing I have been working on. Watching him, David Raya and Peter Schmeichel and what they do to see what I can put into my game as well.”

Fellow academy keeper Owen Goodman headed out for the campaign on loan to Colchester, with Whitworth expected to go out to further his craft.

But Palace had to block any potential exit last summer with uncertainty around Vicente Guaita, who eventually left to join Celta Vigo on a free transfer on deadline day.

When asked if he felt it was time this upcoming summer to experience his first senior loan, Whitworth added: “100 per cent – I’m very ready.

“I have had two full seasons of U23s and two starts in the Premier League. I have trained every day with the first team and the main thing for me now is to go and showcase myself to the world.

“Hopefully I can get out on loan and get some games in me.

“I’m looking forward to working hard during the off-season and getting ready to go and smash next season.”

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