Jordan Pickford may have been on the losing side on Saturday, but the Everton man is emerging from the shadows to prove himself the long-term solution in the England goal.
Gareth Southgate clearly has a problem this summer. The issue of who should keep goal for the Three Lions at the 2018 World Cup in Russia clearly hangs over the England coach – and it’s an issue that needs a rapid answer.
Step forward Jordan Pickford.
I’m certainly not the first to proclaim the former Sunderland man as England’s No 1, but on a day when he went head to head with another potential candidate in Burnley’s Nick Pope, it was the Everton star who underlined his credentials.
Granted, the 23-year-old has been prone to the odd blunder this season, but then the same accusation could be levelled at the world’s best, David De Gea, at the same age. Remember that first season he had at Old Trafford….?
It’d have been all too easy for Sir Alex Ferguson to replace the Spaniard after a humbling first season in the English game. He didn’t and from there grew the world’s very best….
Learning from mistakes is what separates the wheat from the chaff, and Pickford is quickly showing himself to be among the Premier League’s elite.
It was hard to pick fault with his performance at Turf Moor despite the fact Burnley eventually ran out 2-1 winners over his Everton side.
Pickford stamped his authority on proceedings in the first half to deny Ashley Barnes with a flying fingertip save, and was back at it again early in the second period to deny former teammate Aaron Lennon.
WHAT A SAVE 😮 Jordan Pickford denies Burnley an equalizer! pic.twitter.com/dXP06oJ5sC
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 3, 2018
There was little Pickford could do when he was eventually beaten by Barnes’ fierce low shot in the 55th-minute, but the Washington-born stopper was back at it again to deny the same player again. On another day, Barnes will feel he could have had a hat-trick and he was at it again to prevent Chris Wood before the powerful New Zealander popped up with a late winner.
Pickford did not deserve to be on the losing side, but the fact he could nothing about either goal should not detract from a brilliant individual performance.
So what of the other contenders…?
Joe Hart’s West Ham frustrations appear to have thrown him not just out of equation for a starting spot, but also put his place in Southgate’s 23-man squad in serious jeopardy full stop.
Pickford’s credentials are evident, and it’d be hard to question Southgate if Pope was also on the plane to Russia. Then, there’s also Jack Butland, who looks well entrenched in the squad and the most likely rival to Pickford for the No 1 jersey.
And if Pope gets the nod, is it the end of the road for Hart? You’d have to say so….
But amid all the uncertainty, it is Pickford who appears to be finding form at the right time.
Despite having just one cap to his name, Southgate could do far worse than pin his colours to the mast and confirm the Everton man as his No 1 keeper as the build-up to Russia 2018 begins to take hold.
But he needs to do so now and ensure the Everton man is prepared as he can be in international football ahead of another bumpy summer of supporting England in a major tournament.