David Moyes praised Jordan Pickford on his return to the Sunderland side – even if he looked a “little rusty” after two months out.
The 22-year-old spent eight weeks out of the side after injuring his knee in the defeat to Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Pickford rejoined full training ahead of the Southampton defeat but Moyes wasn’t willing to rush the Washington-born stopper back early, which meant Pickford had to wait.
On his return, Pickford looked nervy in the opening stages, spilling an Ademola Lookman shot before recovering quickly to prevent it crossing the line.
Pickford, who could do little about either Everton goal, grew into the game and saved well from Enner Valencia and Romelu Lukaku after the break to keep the scoreline down.
His handling was unconvincing at times but Moyes was pleased to have him back.
When asked if he felt Pickford looked nervy, Moyes said: “Yeah, I sensed that with his handling a little bit.
“But I still felt he made a couple of really important saves for us.
“A little bit rusty maybe, but, overall, I felt he did very well.”
The big selection issue before the game was whether Moyes would recall Pickford or keep faith with Vito Mannone.
Surprisingly, there was no place for Mannone in the squad, with Mika on the bench, leading to great debate over his absence ahead of the game.
Moyes later confirmed the Italian was ill, with Jason Denayer also missing the defeat through illness.
The Scot had no qualms about throwing Pickford straight back into the team, with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on from the stands.
“I think that Jordan’s performances in the first half of the season justified him being selected,” added Moyes.
“His performances are why he got selected for England.
“It is not easy with young goalkeepers, I put him in and his performances have been excellent.
“He saved us points at the start of the season. He is back fit, I have a lot of faith in him, he has good competition from Vito Mannone too.”
When asked why Mannone wasn’t in the squad, Moyes added: “Vito was ill.”
When pressed on whether Pickford would have played anyway, Moyes was keeping his cards close to his chest, adding: “That is my decision.”