Just how crucial is Jordan Pickford to Sunderland's survival hopes? David Moyes has his say
David Moyes believes goalkeeper JordanÂ PickfordÂ could be as central to Sunderland's Premier League survival hopes as lethal marksman Jermain Defoe.
It is little exaggeration to say that the 34-year-old Defoe's goals have kept the Black Cats in the top flight for the last two seasons, and he remains their best hope of escaping the drop for the fifth successive campaign.
However, Moyes believes the return of 22-year-old Pickford from a knee injury could be just as crucial given his fine displays before misfortune struck.
Asked if that was the case, the Scot said: "Definitely. To have a top goalkeeper, he can make the difference and we are really fortunate.
"We have a top centre-forward scoring, and we have also got a top goalkeeper, which we have needed.
"He saved us games earlier on in the season and saved us points - the Bournemouth game would be the one that would come to mind right away. He has done very well."
Sunderland find themselves at the foot of the table once again with just 12 games remaining and although they head into the weekend only three points adrift of safety, the fact that they host Manchester City on Sunday means things could get worse before they get better.
Sadly for the Wearside club, they do not find themselves in uncharted territory having flirted with the drop all too often in recent seasons.
The likes of defender John O'Shea and midfielder Seb Larsson have seen it all before and Moyes is hoping their experience of what is required will be brought to bear as the season approaches its climax.
He said: "I hope so, but the answer is I don't know. I just know they have been through it before. I've not been, so I'll need their help as well and understanding of what it's like.
"Hopefully their experience and knowing the way the games go... And the big thing is hanging in as much as we can, staying with it. Sheasy [O'Shea], for example, he's got big experience of that."
It is a quirk of recent Premier League history that City have found the Stadium of Light a difficult place to visit - indeed, they lost 1-0 there on four successive occasions between August 2010 and November 2013.
However, they have won on each of their last league two visits with Sergio Aguero helping himself to three goals. The Argentina international recently found himself out of favour until an injury to Gabriel Jesus, but has scored four in his last two outings to leave Moyes wary of facing him.
"He's a threat," Moyes said. "Whoever he plays for or whoever he plays with, he's a threat and it would be good if he wasn't playing, that's for sure."