Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce is keeping close tabs on the progress of highly-rated Jordan Pickford.
Allardyce was in the crowd at Deepdale to watch the on-loan stopper keep his ninth clean sheet of the season in Preston North End’s 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest.
His fifth in consecutive Championship matches puts him within one game of breaking a Preston record for successive clean sheets.
And Pickford’s form has not gone unnoticed at the Stadium of Light, with Allardyce keen to take a look for himself.
The club’s Number 1 stopper Costel Pantilimon has endured a tough season, making some costly mistakes and managing just one shut-out for struggling Sunderland.
The original plan was for 21-year-old Pickford to spend a season gaining regular experience in the second tier with a view to challenging for the Number 1 jersey next season.
But the Echo understands there is a small window of opportunity in January for the Black Cats to recall Pickford early from his season-long loan, if they have a change of heart.
Washington-born Pickford’s ninth clean sheet in front of Allardyce ensured Eoin Doyle’s first goal for the Lilywhites proved to be the winner.
And it means Pickford can equal a club record on Saturday, if he can manage a sixth successive shut-out against QPR at Loftus Road.
Preston boss Simon Grayson is a big admirer of the England Under-21 international, who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.
“It’s a fantastic achievement to get five clean sheets on the trot,” added Grayson.
“To do it in any league takes some doing but at this level with the players we’ve been against. There’s a huge amount of credit to the lads, as individuals and as a team.”
Carlo Nash currently holds Preston’s record for most clean sheets in a season, having picked up 24 in 2005-06.
Pickford’s performances for both club and country have alerted several of Sunderland’s top-flight rivals, with Spurs, Aston Villa and Manchester United scouts keeping tabs on him.
For now though, Pickford is enjoying his loan stint.
He recently said: “The more games I play, the more I will mature and the more I mature, the better I will become as a goalkeeper.”