TEENAGE Sunderland stopper Jordan Pickford has made an instant impression at non-league Alfreton Town after being granted his second taste of senior football.
Third-choice Pickford is one of a minority of Sunderland’s homegrown players who will survive the cull of the club’s academy crop at the end of the season.
While the likes of Ryan Noble, Craig Lynch and Adam Reed are set to depart when their contracts expire in the summer, Pickford is rated highly by Sunderland’s staff and very much seen as a top prospect for the future.
The 18-year-old impressed Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill during the summer’s pre-season trip to South Korea and has warmed up alongside fellow stoppers Simon Mignolet and Keiren Westwood prior to first-team games throughout the season.
But Pickford’s first-team experience has been limited to 17 appearances for Darlington in the Blue Square Bet Premier last season.
The Washington-born keeper returned to the Conference earlier this week after penning a month-long loan with Alfreton and impressed on his debut in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Hyde.
Alfreton boss Nicky Law, who has lost first-choice keeper Phil Barnes to a thigh injury, said: “He (Pickford) was a major plus point on Tuesday night.
“After the injury to Phil, we asked about Jordan. He is third choice at Sunderland, which says everything, and for Martin O’Neill to let him come down, we are very grateful for that.
“The young goalkeeper’s kicking was immense and made a massive difference to us.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland academy team-mate Reed has extended his loan spell with League One basement boys Portsmouth until the end of March.
The Black Cats Under-21s midfielder has made nine appearances for Pompey since arriving on loan last month.
And despite an inevitable third successive relegation for the south coast club, Reed has already hinted that he could be interested in penning a permanent deal at Fratton Park, with Sunderland unlikely to offer the 21-year-old Hartlepudlian the chance to remain at the Stadium of Light.