Why Jordan Pickford is ready for Sunderland debut at Arsenal

Jordan Pickford. Picture by FRANK REID
Jordan Pickford. Picture by FRANK REID
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Bar-room conversations about the latest wonder-kid in Sunderland’s academy, destined to be a Premier League superstar, are ten-a-penny.

But it’s far less frequent for one of these teen sensations to actually make the grade.

If - as expected - Jordan Pickford makes his Sunderland competitive debut at the Emirates tomorrow, the goalkeeper will prove to be an exception to that rule.

Ever since his early teenage years, Pickford has been earmarked by the coaching department at the Academy of Light as one who could go to the very top - testified by his inclusion in the England squads throughout the various age groups.

Perhaps THE key factor in Pickford realising his potential though has been the quantity of loan spells for the keeper, and so early on in his career.

When then Conference side Darlington were in dire financial difficulties back in 2012-13, they asked their North East neighbours whether they could spare any players.

Pickford got a chance to go and play regular competitive football as a 17-year-old and that early experience of ‘men’s football’ rather than the sanitised arena of academy games, has proved to be the making of him.

From that loan spell with the Quakers, Pickford has gradually worked his way through the divisions - League Two, League One and Championship spells, before he appears for the club he supported as a boy.

He’s already made more than 100 competitive appearances.

It’s been a classic ‘old school’ footballing education. Sunderland were even ready to promote him to the number two role last summer, before deciding a loan spell in the Championship would be more beneficial.

But after being recalled from his loan at Preston, is Pickford now ready to be thrust into the limelight at Sunderland?

Certainly, his performances in the Championship suggest he is more than capable of making the step up after a string of superb saves both for Preston and on England Under-21 duty.

The 21-year-old has been so impressive that a host of Premier League peers have been keeping tabs on him, including Manchester United and Spurs.

Pickford’s distribution is absolutely outstanding too. It’s one of his best assets, and one that appeals to Allardyce.

The only reservation expressed among supporters over Pickford’s promotion to the first-team ranks seems to be whether he can handle the extra pressure of playing at the highest level, particularly if he makes his debut against Arsenal’s star-studded ranks.

But Pickford’s mentality is very similar to that of fellow Sunderland academy graduate Jordan Henderson.

He is tunnel-focused on his football to the extent that he has been a regular spectator at U21 and first-team games, even when he has been out on loan.

With Allardyce ready to put his trust in Pickford and let either Vito Mannone or Costel Pantilimon leave the club, this is the Washington-born keeper’s big chance.

Don’t bet against him taking that opportunity with both hands.