Jordan Pickford

Pickford flying high

by Kate Smith

Young stopper reflects on England stint.

Young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has progress in his sights after helping England’s under-19s make headway of their own.

Pickford was in the squad which recently progressed to the Elite Round in the race for qualification for next summer’s European U19 Championships, which will take place in Lithuania.

The product of the club’s Academy started two of the young Lions’ three games, keeping a clean sheet in a 3-0 win against Estonia late last month.

He was named on the bench for a 6-0 victory over the Faroe Islands before returning ahead of a 1-1 draw with heavily-fancied Ukraine.

“I didn’t have much to do in the first game, so it was all about keeping my concentration,” said Pickford, who says he’s looking forward to seeing England’s brand-new St George’s Park HQ for the first time.

“I was back in against Ukraine and that was a tough game. Some of their players have played first-team football for the likes of Kiev and Donetsk, so that was a good test for us.

“We got the results we needed and finishing top of the group was a big boost. The next stage [later this year] is hard because we could come up against the likes of Spain and Germany.

“We have to finish top of the Elite Round group to qualify automatically, so it’s going to be another challenge.”

The keeper has now made three appearances at under-19 level and was delighted to be the starting keeper for two of the three qualification games.

But he realises there’s no room for complacency with the cream of England’s young goalkeeping talent snapping at his heels.

“It’s good to be established but I know I have to keep working hard to keep my place,” he said.

“Every time we go away there is usually a new keeper or someone on the radar. I have to keep focused and be better than them.

“The under-20 World Cup is coming up [in 2013] and I’d love to get there.”

Meanwhile things are also progressing nicely on the home front for Pickford.

He was handed a squad number before the start of the season and also appeared in the club’s official first-team photograph alongside senior stoppers Simon Mignolet and Keiren Westwood.

But the youngster’s primary focus is on the under-21s as he returned from international duty to keep a clean sheet at Stoke earlier this week.

“It felt really good to get that squad number and be in the picture – I’m a step closer to my dream,” he said.

“I have always wanted to play for Sunderland ever since I was a kid. It felt good to go away with the team in pre-season and to actually get on the pitch [in South Korea] was brilliant.

“Things are going well with the under-21s and it’s definitely a better league this year. It feels more competitive.

“We had a great result at Stoke the other night and deserved to win. It was a tough game. The standard has gone up across the league and I can definitely tell that in the games I’ve played.

“The games are faster, there’s a lot more to do and a lot more decisions to make during the course of a match.”