It is not a good time to be a Sunderland supporter.
Saturday confirmed what all but the most die-hard fans had accepted; the Black Cats would be plying their trade in the Championship next season.
They have had a dismal season with only five wins, exacerbated by David Moyes’ unacceptable comments to a female reporter and their hated rivals Newcastle United passing them by to return to the top flight.
Although relegation is nothing new to the club this ignominy brings an end to a ten year stay in the Premier League, and now the argument rages over who bears the brunt of the blame.
David Moyes? Ellis Short? An underachieving playing squad? While the debate rages on two players have been almost unequivocally absolved of blame; top scorer Jermain Defoe and promising young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Pickford joined the Sunderland academy at the age of 8 and quickly established himself as a future talent, signing professional terms in 2011.
He dutifully completed periods on loan to Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion and Carlisle United, often being recalled by his parent club for injury cover.
He completed a successful first season at Bradford City as first choice, starting the next at Preston North End.
He once again impressing as he kept clean sheets in his first three starts and equalled the club record for 6 consecutive clean sheets.
Called back in January to Sunderland because of an injury crisis, he made his first competitive start against Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Expecting this season to be cover for Vito Mannone, he started the third game of the season against Sunderland in the injured Mannone’s place and hasn’t looked back since.
Pickford has developed a reputation as someone who enjoys coming off his line and confronting the ball, often punching the ball rather than catching.
He’s known as a great short distance stopper and is developing a talent for launching big kicks up the field.
But there do remain question marks about his discipline, sent off twice for Bradford and once for Preston, although two of those were appealed successfully by the clubs.
One of the best
Pickford was the first Sunderland player in 17 years to be nominated for a PFA award, in his case: the Young Player of the Year.
The 23-year-old may have only kept 3 clean sheets but according to the statistic site Squawka he is currently the 6th best goalkeeper in the Premier League, with an average save ratio of 3.68 a game.
He’s established himself at England under 21 level and received his first full international call up in October, replacing other highly rated young goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
But success has not gone to the young keeper’s head; he still talks of hunting Kevin Phillips and Kevin Ball’s autographs at the training pitch, and his subsequent delight of being coached by Ball at underage level.
Greener pastures beckon?
But Pickford may not be at the Stadium of Light much longer.
Reports of bids of around 15 million are emerging around the likes of Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Rafa Benitez is reportedly a fan, but the Tyne and Wear resident does not envisage following former team mate Jack Colback across the river, so at least there’s some good news for long-suffering Sunderland fans.
His current manager David Moyes has advised him that staying at the Championship-headed Black Cats would be better for his development, but with his own future far from certain Moyes may not be repeating the club’s view, with reports a replacement is already being lined up for the starlet.
The real deal?
While recent history is paved with young promising English players making ill-advised moves to bigger clubs, Pickford looks like the real deal.
Having already played in all the top five divisions in the land he may feel he is entitled to deals reportedly of around 90,000 pound a week.
While the pull of home is likely to be strong the prospect of a place in England’s 2018 World Cup squad may be enough to make Jordan Pickford fly the coop and continue his rise to the top.
Written by Matthew Robson
Follow Matthew on Twitter @TheRobsonator93
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