Football: No more question marks over England's Pickford
England manager Gareth Southgate has plenty of selection decisions to make as his team head into their Euro 2020 quarter-final against Ukraine but one name is a certainty on his team-sheet - goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
LONDON: England manager Gareth Southgate has plenty of selection decisions to make as his team head into their Euro 2020 quarter-final against Ukraine but one name is a certainty on his team-sheet - goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Pickford has not conceded a goal in the tournament and has won the praise of one of his country's finest keepers, Peter Shilton.
"He has got control of his defence, he gives them a rollicking. He is decisive, he comes out at times to punch. All this tells me he is in control of his game," he said.
Pickford was crucial in the 2-0 win over Germany at Wembley on Tuesday with a fine save from Kai Havertz and expert positioning as Thomas Mueller missed a great chance to equalise.
"It was a good game for me, I was in the moment and I have got to be in the moment for England – and I felt I was there, making saves when I have got to," Pickford told a news conference on Thursday, before quickly making sure to give credit to his team mates.
"It is not just me, it is the full eleven and everyone is working really hard to keep those clean sheets, in tournament football they are key," he said.
In Rome, Pickford could surpass Gordon Banks' achievement of four straight clean sheets in the triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign.
Yet for much of the past two seasons, Pickford's status as England's number one has been in doubt as critics have highlighted his mistakes at club level with Everton.
In November, Pickford was left out of Everton's starting line-up by his manager Carlo Ancelotti and the strong displays of Burnley's Nick Pope raised the prospect of him losing his national team spot.
But Southgate has consistently reminded those who questioned his loyalty to the 27-year-old that he has never let his standards slip with England and when Pope suffered a pre-tournament injury, any lingering question marks disappeared.
The former Sunderland keeper said he has learnt to live with the criticism.
"You're always up for criticism when you're a professional footballer and England player. It's about maturing each day and becoming the best you can be," Pickford said.
"Having a son definitely helps. It changes your life. I feel I've changed. I'm 27 now, played a lot more football matches and throughout your career you know the numbers start adding up.
"Every day is a learning curve. You learn something new, on the training pitch or being at home, it's always learning."