Cats Eye View: Sunderland’s chances of survival enhanced by return of Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford gathers a high ball under pressure at Everton. Picture by Frank Reid
Jordan Pickford gathers a high ball under pressure at Everton. Picture by Frank Reid
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Sunderland were the width of a football from coming away with a potentially precious point from Goodison Park.

Jermain Defoe – who else – saw his fierce effort smash off the crossbar and bounce down just in front of the goal-line.

The latest in technological advances ensured referee Stuart Attwell knew within seconds that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.

Then, almost inevitably, Everton made it 2-0 within a minute. Game over.

The margins between success and failure are narrow.

At the end of the 2016-17 campaign, the three worst teams will be playing Championship football next season.

The table shows Sunderland have the joint-third worst attack, with only Middlesbrough (19) and Hull City (23) scoring fewer goals.

Only Hull, Swansea City and Bournemouth have a worse defence than the Black Cats, who have shipped 48 goals.

Ironic really, given Sunderland can boast one of the best strikers in the top flight in Defoe – who has scored 14 of their 24 league goals – and one of the best keepers too.

Defoe and Jordan Pickford alone won’t keep Sunderland up, but there is a far greater chance with them in the side.

It was at times an unusually nervy display from in-demand Pickford but understandable given his lengthy two-month spell out.

Six minutes in, Pickford had a heart-in-the-mouth moment.

Leighton Baines, in acres of space, picked out livewire Ademola Lookman; his first-time shot spilled by Pickford, the ball squirming from the 22-year-old who dashed to prevent the ball crossing the line.

It was a let-off. An uncharacteristic error from Pickford, but he recovered well and grew into the game.

Twenty minutes in and Pickford this time did far better to deny Idrissa Gana Gueye at the near post with his legs after the midfielder breezed past Lamine Kone.

Pickford’s handling was questionable on occasions, but he could do little about the opening goal from Gana Gueye.

There was a further uncomfortable moment on the stroke of half-time, Pickford just managing to get enough on Ross Barkley’s long-range effort to push it round the post.

It was unconvincing, but he dealt with it ahead of a much calmer second-half display.

Pickford produced a brilliant save to deny powerhouse Lukaku after he brushed off Kone, the keeper diving to his right to palm the ball to safety.

Lukaku got his revenge with 10 minutes to go, within a minute of Defoe’s effort hitting the crossbar at the other end.

He out-muscled Bryan Oviedo, racing from deep, before bundling the ball, courtesy of a deflection off the left-back, over Pickford who could do little to prevent it.

Everton’s lead was contained at 2-0 thanks to another fine stop from Pickford, who denied sub Enner Valencia.

Sadly, picking the ball out of the net is an all too familiar feeling for the Academy product but there is no doubt Sunderland are a better team with him in it.

Rusty against Everton, Pickford will soon be back on top form, with Sunderland benefiting from his usually sound handling, excellent shot-stopping ability and precise distribution.

He gets Sunderland moving quickly with his incisive throwing and kicking, a side of his game he has worked hard on.

His contribution alone won’t be enough to keep Sunderland up, but they have a far greater chance with him back in the side.